Following future leaders: the T Level student

Leah Hickman, 16, is one of the first students in England to start the new T Level qualification. In the first of our series focusing on the next generation of built environment professionals, we speak to her about her chosen career and her hopes for the future


  • Karen Day

25 September 2020

Photography: Michael Leckie

The T Level is equivalent to three A Levels, with students spending 80% of their time in college and 20% in a work placement. It has been developed in collaboration with industry employers and professional bodies, including RICS. Leah is studying construction: design, surveying and planning at Walsall College in the West Midlands, and underwent a rigorous interview with Balfour Beatty to secure a work placement.

It must have been a strange few months for you – leaving school so early, not sitting your GCSEs and being in lockdown? 

It was OK. I have been really looking forward to getting up early and getting back into a routine. I feel like my mind has been so inactive at times. I had put a lot of work into my GCSEs, so suddenly not being able to take them was surreal. I did pass everything, but I did better in my mock exams, so I was confused about how I could get lower grades. But I did feel lucky to get the grades I needed to do a T Level.

Why did you choose the T Level? 

It’s a new qualification and I think employers will be attracted to it. At school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at first and this is more of a direct route. It’s brand new so it’s completely up to date. We’ll also do blocks of work placements. I had an interview with Balfour Beatty, which was my first real interview, and was offered a place there. It’s a very good opportunity to get a feel for what a job will be like and they might offer trainee jobs or apprenticeships after the T Level.

What are your ambitions? 

I would like to be a quantity surveyor. It’s something I’ve read about. I’m interested in numbers and how you can go from something to nothing. I think construction can be quite male dominated and I want to prove that construction isn’t all about men, and women can do whatever job they want to do.  

How will your course be structured?

It’s over two years and there are 14 units. We’ll cover seven in the first year and seven in the second and they include health and safety, law, science and building technology. We’ll have work placements scattered between our college work and three exams at the end of the second year.

Due to social distancing there’s a mix of online and in-college learning. How to do you feel about that?

OK. There are two groups of us, so we’ll do alternative weeks in college. At home we’ll be doing research, assessments and study. I’m OK working at home. If I’m set something to do I like to get it done quite soon. The lecturers have also been really supportive, and they’ve stressed that it’s better to approach them than just leave problems.  

“I want to prove that construction isn’t all about men, and women can do whatever job they want to do”

What do you think are the industry’s biggest challenges?

I think it can scare a lot of people off. Being a quantity surveyor can seem like a demanding job. They always have to have numbers in mind. They have to estimate how much everything will cost and then oversee it all. It can also look quite masculine and male dominated. We should all be able to do the same roles.

Could your business help train the next generation of surveyors? To find out about the benefits of offering a T-Level work placement, visit the government's website, or email Mike Cox at

"I think it can scare a lot of people off. Being a quantity surveyor can seem like a demanding job"