Hammond's Budget Was Not All Bad

Posted in The Industry on April 04, 2017

Most of the national headlines around the Spring Budget focused on the instantly discredited hike in National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for the self-employed.

Of course, we all know that ended in a humiliating U turn and red faces all round, however, the Chancellor Philip Hammond did also get a number of things right – not least his welcome support for technical training, which has positive implications for the building services sector.

The creation of 'T Levels' is a smart idea and so simple that you wonder why it wasn't thought of before. Giving vocational qualifications a 'brand' that bestows equal status with A Levels is the perfect way to ensure they do not continue to be seen as inferior by ambitious students and their parents.

The Budget set aside £500m to develop new 'T Levels' in 15 vocational categories, including engineering and construction, between now and 2022. This should prove to be a vital supporting step for the apprenticeships that are also being developed by our sector in a number of key professions including ventilation hygiene; service & maintenance; ductwork; and air conditioning.

Often we miss out on talented young people long before they even think about an apprenticeship in our industry because they have fallen out of love with an education system that appears to offer little to the technically minded. T Levels open up an alternative career path that doesn't rely on a student securing As and A*s and then heading off to university.

Flexible However, university still remains an option under the new flexible Trailblazer system and Mr Hammond also announced £300m to support 1,000 new PhD places and fellowships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

With the Trailblazer scheme, an apprentice can opt into a degree and even go on to post-graduate study at any stage if they want to beef up their qualifications later in life. Similarly, if the route they have taken is not working out, they can change tack and be moved across into another discipline – or up/down a level – depending on their progress.

This is a huge improvement on the old system that allowed too many apprentices to 'fail' and simply fall out of the system again. The flexibility of the new Trailblazer system – backed by the Chancellor's T Level initiative – creates a whole new landscape for training that can help employers fill skills gaps and move trainees into the right jobs.

The Budget also included provision for increasing the hours of training available to technical students aged 16 to 19 by more than 50% and including a high-quality, three-month work placement. The latter could be particularly valuable as it will give them a useful flavour of working life and a feel for the profession they are considering before committing themselves.

So, there is now nothing to stop a technically minded student starting their vocational journey at the age of 16 with T Levels; then continuing onto a workplace apprenticeship that provides a real job at the end. Then, if they are that way inclined, they can opt to go to university – usually part-time – to complete a degree.

Companies in the building engineering sector, as a whole, and the ventilation hygiene/maintenance industry in particular, are busy and workloads are growing. This makes establishing a sustainable flow of new people and new skills into our general workforce more important than ever.

We are under pressure to deliver more and more projects; so we need numbers, but we also need a wider variety of skills to maintain the quality of the work we do. T Levels offer the tantalising prospect of attracting a much more diverse range of talented people because they will be motivated to consider a career in our sector at a much younger age and bring their particular talents to us.

By improving the status of vocational qualifications, T Levels and Trailblazers can make technical professions more attractive to a broader cross-section of our society. So, let's give Mr Hammond a bit of credit.

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