Budget 2017: Technical qualifications overhaul gets a cautious welcome

Employers have welcomed chancellor Philip Hammond’s planned £500m-a-year boost to technical education and the launch of a new ‘T-level’ qualification, but warned the policy will not address short term skills shortages.

In his Budget, Hammond said the ‘T-levels’ - technical training for 16-19-year-olds in sectors including construction and engineering - would “establish parity of esteem between academic and technical education”.

The government plans to ramp up training via technical routes to 900 hours - a 50% increase on today - and slash the 13,000 or so technical courses currently available to 15. Technical students will also have access to student loans, like students at university.

Liz Jenkins, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, welcomed the chancellor’s “bold move”, but cautioned that the new courses would not be introduced until 2019, adding: “So it’s clearly not going to provide a quick-fix for an industry on the brink of a severe skills shortage, especially with Brexit on the horizon.

“But overall it is positive news for the industry as it shows the Government has been listening and is aware of the need to plug this growing skills gap.”

Adrian Hames, UK head of infrastructure planning at WSP, also gave the policy a cautious welcome: “Whilst the introduction of T-levels is very much welcome for building upcoming major infrastructure projects with more young and skilled workers, these changes will take years to have an impact.”

The announcement came after union Unite this week uncovered what it called “shocking” figures which it said suggested thousands of young people are being placed on so-called “dead-end” classroom-based construction courses.

Under a Freedom of Information request, Unite found that while 192,500 young people began a classroom based construction course in 2015/16, a rise of 14% on the previous year, but only 21,460 people began a construction apprenticeship.