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Colleges and Employers: Collaboration

Volume 717: debated on Monday 4 July 2022

12. What steps his Department is taking to help facilitate collaboration between colleges and employers. (900845)

The roll-out of new local skills improvement plans will forge new relationships between employers and the providers of skills to ensure that we have not only the right qualifications but the right qualifications in the right places.

The Government envisage as many as 600,000 heat pumps being installed every year, yet heating companies in my constituency are struggling to train or recruit sufficient staff for that growth sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a real opportunity for further education colleges to collaborate with local businesses and provide that training?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Local skills improvement plans, drawn up by employer representative bodies, will start to bring about that collaboration. There are already excellent training options for aspiring heat pump installers, such as the level 3 heat pump engineering technician apprenticeship or the T-level in building services engineering for construction—both of which are backed by Government funding.

The fantastic Luton Sixth Form College in my constituency is successfully offering BTECs for biomedical science. What is the Department doing to promote that qualification with universities, medical colleges and employers, so that more BTEC students can become the much-needed doctors that we need them to be?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she will know, we are currently reviewing level 3 qualifications. The overlap list was published a couple of months ago, and we will be responding to it in the new year. We are going through technical qualifications at the moment to make sure they provide students both with a route into work and with experience while they are studying for their qualification. That is what T-levels are all about.

Entirely rightly, we are getting more youngsters and young people into training in technical subjects, but at a recent meeting with Warwickshire College CEO Angela Joyce, I learned that it is a real challenge to find lecturers to teach those subjects. What is my hon. Friend doing to persuade businesses that it is in their own interests to release some of their people into colleges to do some of that training?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These closer collaborations between employers and providers are going to make sure that we have both the workforce and the experience in colleges to give students the skills that the economy needs.

Nine out of 10 T-level providers have failed to meet even the Government’s own modest recruitment targets, and an FE Week investigation found that employers’ refusal to offer work placements was cited as a key reason for that failure. Labour wants T-levels to be a success, but courses in crucial areas such as digital, health and science have the lowest enrolment, and employers and students are being failed. We know that the Secretary of State wears the T-level badge with great style, but does he actually understand why the policy is failing? Can the Minister assure the House that, in 2022, the Government will meet the enrolment targets that have been set?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for T-levels in principle. T-levels are going extremely well, and we have very good uptake. The first year of T-levels was conducted in perhaps the harshest circumstances imaginable during covid, but thanks to the hard work of my officials and the hard work of principals, we managed to get almost all students—well over 90% of students—their work placements. If we can do it in the conditions of covid, I think we can do it at other times.