T Level Article (800 × 600 px)

Are T Levels the key to tackling the digital skills shortage? Meet a teacher & student who believe they could be

T Level Article (800 × 600 px)

Women employed in IT currently make up only 20 per cent of the total workforce – but for Black women, that figure is a mere 0.7 per cent, according to analysis by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.  

As the UK faces a digital skills shortage, and specifically a shortage of females in the digital sector, are T Levels a key part of the solution?

Two-year courses introduced in 2020, T Levels are equivalent to 3 A levels and were developed in collaboration with employers to meet the needs of industry and prepare students for work, further training or study. T Levels mix classroom learning (80% of time) with an ‘on the job’ industry placement (20% of time).

In this article, we get an insight from a pioneering Digital teacher and a student, who is part of the first cohort to complete this qualification.

Let’s meet Katy and Shechinah to find out more about T Levels and how they could inspire more women into tech.

Meet Katy Walsh, a Digital T Level teacher from La Retraite Catholic School for Girls in Clapham

Katy is one of the first Further Education teachers in the country to pioneer the teaching of new T Levels qualifications. Katy is calling on others working in tech to consider becoming a Further Education teacher, part time alongside their current profession, to help skill up the next generation of talent in the fast-growing digital sector and inspire the next gen of female talent.

Katy Walsh

You’re one of the first Further Education teachers in the UK to pioneer teaching of T Levels – could you tell us exactly what a T Level is?

T Levels were designed in collaboration with employers to meet the needs of industry. They are qualifications for students aged 16 to 19, broadly equivalent in size to 3 A levels, that focus on technical and vocational skills. All T Levels combine classroom learning with on-the job training – the Digital Production, Design and Development T Level covers a wide range of subjects including web development, software development and user experience design and prepares students to enter the industry in a range of roles.

How do they differ from A levels?

The main difference between the Computer Science A level and the Digital Production, Design and Development T Level is that the T Level is tailored to the skills required in the workplace. T Level students are completely focused on the one subject and their future in that industry. With the A level, students have to split their time with 2 or 3 other subject areas which may not suit someone who wants to focus on developing skills like coding.

With the T Level there is lots of variety in the one course.

There is also the practical skills element, 20% of the course is an industry placement, which allows the students to get engrossed in the sector and really develop the skills that employers are looking for.

Do you think the introduction of T Levels will help more girls into STEM? If so, how?

I believe T Levels will help more girls into STEM subjects and jobs. In our first cohort, we had seven female students on the course and they are all either going onto university (to study computer science, cyber security or games development) or are starting apprenticeships in the tech industry. The T Level has an industry placement and a big focus on practical skills and this appeals to lots of young people.

What more can be done to help increase female representation in STEM industries?

I think the main way to increase female representation in STEM industries is for companies to work with schools and help students understand the different job roles that are out there. We had lots of people from a variety of digital roles, and different backgrounds, speaking to our students which has helped inspire them about their future.

We also participated in the ‘Women in Tech’ virtual festival.

Seeing so many successful women share their journeys in the tech industry was very beneficial to our female students.

One discussion on ethical hacking inspired my student Shechinah to choose to study the specialism at university. The women participating also made it clear that building a professional network is very important, as is finding a suitable mentor.

Finally, if companies are determined to encourage diversity in the industry, then they need to reach out to young people and offer them industry placements or work experience opportunities. Every school has a careers officer, so employers should get in touch with local schools and think about how they could facilitate a placement. If employers put in the effort to mentor students interested in STEM subjects, it will benefit them as an organisation – and the industry as a whole.

Meet 17-year-old Shechinah Asomaning-Ashmead, who studied a T Level in Digital Design and Development

Shechinah also completed a placement at the Department for Transport. Shechinah is celebrating finishing her course this summer. Shechinah wants to go into cyber security and ethical hacking and become a role model for other Black women in tech whilst helping protect consumers from cyber-attacks.

Shechinah Asomaning-Ashmead

You studied a T Level in Digital Production, Design and Development – why did you choose to study for a T Level?

I haven’t come from an IT background so choosing a digital qualification was a bit of a leap of faith for me, especially as the T Level was a new qualification. I did some research into cyber security and realised what an interesting career path it was. The IT sector is fairly male dominated and I wanted to become a role model for other black women in the industry, while protecting consumers from cyber-attacks.

My school held a T Level event where I found out more about the course content and the different topics that would be covered.

The combination of classroom learning and on-the-job training really appealed to me.

I also enjoyed learning practically and the course included an industry placement of at least 45 days which was a big bonus. I knew how valuable it was to be able to show you have real life industry experience when applying for jobs.

What are the benefits of a T Level, over an A level or an apprenticeship?

Taking a T Level is similar in both size and workload to taking 3 A levels, but the T Level course allowed me to specialise in a subject I was passionate about earlier in my education and career. T Levels mix classroom learning and on-the-job training so you have the benefit of still being in full time education, while experiencing what it’s like to enter the workplace. The fact that T Level courses are designed in collaboration with employers in the sector is reassuring because you know you are learning the relevant skills you need to land a job. If you are interested in T Levels, the Get the Jump content hub on the National Careers Service website brings together all the education and training choices available to young people in one place, including more information on T Levels.

We’re firm believers that you can’t be it unless you can see it! Can you tell us who some of your role models are?

I am very close to my family, and my mother is one of my idols. Although she does not work in STEM, having a strong woman in my life that took on so many responsibilities while my siblings and I grew up is inspiring.

I always strive to mirror her strengths and sacrifices in everything I do.

I’m grateful for the support my mother has provided throughout my education and career journey so far. Neither of us knew very much about T Levels when I finished by GCSEs so we did the research together and she supported my decision to take on this new course.  She even subscribed to some education magazines so she could keep up to date with any news on T Levels and find resources to help me with the course!

What more can be done to help increase female representation in STEM industries?

I think mentoring programmes are important so young women can seek support and advice from other women working in industry. I attended programs like ‘Think her Ambition’ and ‘Stemettes’ which really inspired me and encouraged me to pursue a career in the sector. These programmes play an important role in educating and inspiring more young women to consider careers in STEM.

Visual representation and role models are also important – I’m proud to be one of the first female Digital Production, Design and Development T Level students in the country and I hope to support other women to enter the industry.