Could the new digital T Level help reduce the IT skills gap?

With everything else that has been going on in 2020, the launch of the new digital T Level may have been missed by some people – including some students who could have benefitted from them. Now we’re getting used to this new normal of living with COVID-19, what better time to start talking about them again?

So, what are T Levels I hear you ask?

T Levels are brand new 2-year qualifications that follow GCSEs and are equivalent to three A levels. They have been designed by employers to ensure young people develop the knowledge and skills businesses need. I think of them as sitting between apprenticeships and A levels as they are mostly classroom based but also include a 45-day industry placement. The first three T Levels, including the first digital one, launch this month with others being rolled out over the next few years. Although designed primarily to lead young people into skilled work, with a T Level they could go to university or move into an apprenticeship.

How did I end up working with the Department for Education on this opportunity?

I regularly ask myself this question seeing as I left school in the summer of 1987 with significantly lower grades than were predicted. My options were extremely limited and I found myself working at a pottery factory as a Caster making hundreds of pieces of pottery every week. Fast forward some 30 years that has taken in night school, university, a first IT role with Atos Origin and the last 14 years with my current employer, Fujitsu. My day to day work is as a Solutions Architect, solving business problems using IT and whilst my specialisms may have changed over time, the last few years have seen me develop in our Cyber Security business. My work is interesting and challenging with no two days the same and, wanting to encourage young people into our industry, this seemed a great opportunity.  

Why did I want to get involved?

The big draw was being able to create a qualification for students that is driven by industry. Students who take one of the three digital T Levels will get access to relevant content, examples and experiences that will give them skills that are utilised in organisations right now. They will also have the added benefit of 45 days with an employer on an industry placement to practice what they have learnt and gain experience of using their digital skills, whether in a digital business or the relevant department of a non-digital business.

It was important to have a good balance of views, and on the Digital Support Services Panel we had representatives from IT service organisations, IT training organisations, the British Computer Society and independent IT business owners all bringing a wealth of experience and varied skills. This gave me the opportunity to work with individuals who were passionate about IT and education, and I saw this as chance to influence the curriculum and help reduce the digital skills gap.

About the Digital T Levels

As mentioned above, there are three digital T Levels. The first in Digital Production, Design and Development launches at selected colleges and schools across England this month. My T Level in Digital Support Services and a final one in Digital Business Services both start next September. All have a core content providing a good grounding across all digital disciplines and then more focused learning within occupational specialisms.

As an example, my panel delivered three specialisms in Digital Infrastructure, Network Cabling, and Digital Support.

Could they be the answer to reducing the IT skills gap?

I believe they certainly represent a huge step towards this. The digital T Levels are all about developing the next generation of STEM leaders and innovators - critical thinkers with the ability to understand and apply data and develop solutions to complex problems.  

A digital T Level offers students the chance to start working towards their digital career after GCSEs, learning the skills our industry needs and gaining significant experience putting them into practice. They offer us a pipeline of appropriately trained and motivated young people who understand our industry and can hit the ground running.

I also see real benefits in teaming up with a local T Level provider now to start offering industry placements. As well as being able to spot and nurture talent at the very start of their careers, they can also help ensure our thinking remains current and relevant.

Find out more about T Levels and industry placements at tlevels.gov.uk.


Tim Chapman is Lead for the Cyber Security Architecture and Design stream at Fujitsu and a STEM ambassador. He was a member of one of the T Level panels responsible for creating the content of the T Level in Digital Support Services.

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