Tech-levels added to the curriculum this school year could significantly combat the IT skills gap, according to an online recruiter service recruiter that has welcomed their arrival.
Exam board AQA unveiled the new qualifications in response to the 2011 Wolf Report, which said that many vocational courses were failing to help students’ career prospects.
Richard Shea, Managing Director, EMEA search at Futurestep, said introducing tech-levels into colleges would help develop young talent.
He said: “Students will be taught the necessary skills for careers in IT, from security to programming, which will succeed in bridging this gap over time. As a result we will see a more competitive landscape for talent, and a stronger talent pool of IT candidates.
“As the UK continues to develop its digital economy and fuel the UK’s Plc, we will see an increasing importance on training in order to equip the UK work force with the necessary skills for the future. In recent years we have seen a significant lack of technology skills when it comes to recruiting for talent in the IT sector, with an absence of students going on to study STEM subjects at University level becoming an increasing issue.
“The growth figures around the digital economy show there is a clear demand for well-educated and technically competent candidates. These tech-levels are a milestone in ensuring that young talent is being educated and nurtured within the technology sector, making for a healthy and strong IT future in the UK.”
Seven courses are being offered to students as of this academic year: Business Marketing; Design Engineering; Mechatronic Engineering; Power Network Engineering; IT Networking; IT Programming and IT User Support, while Cyber Security and Entertainment Technology will become available next year.
Highly sought-after ‘soft skills’ – such as team-working, communication and problem-solving – will be taught and assessed as a central part of the qualifications and tailored to each field. The lack of trained tech staff is a long-term problem in the channel, with many resellers and vendors alike claiming the skills gap is a barrier to their growth.
Employers and professional bodies including Siemens, Microsoft, Toshiba and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, contributed to the design, structure and assessment of the qualifications.
Mike Morris of Microsoft Education UK said: “We’ve helped AQA to come up with modules that will be fit for purpose in terms of delivering employability into the skills we currently find a challenge in our market place.”
The Further Education courses are available to 16 to 19-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They carry UCAS points ranging up to 280 points for the top grade. This allows those who sit the exams to go on to university or head straight into employment or apprenticeships.
Carole Bishop, AQA’s Head of Technical and Vocational Qualifications, said: “We felt strongly that designing qualifications with employers in mind wasn’t enough – and that it was important to involve the employers right from the start and at every stage of the process. The input we’ve had from more than a hundred organisations means we can be really confident that our Tech-levels have exactly what employers are looking for.
“These new qualifications are on an equal footing with A-levels, and we believe employers will start making them a job requirement because they know they’ll guarantee the right knowledge and skills.”