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Enough about A-levels, exam board AQA launches Tech-levels to combat skills gaps

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Charlie Mullins, former apprentice and owner of Pimlico Plumbers, is in “despair at this country’s continued obsession with university” and is in full support of vocational training.

Elsewhere, we’ve seen professional services firms EY and PwC revise degree and A-level requirements in order to achieve a more diverse workforce.

Rather than relegating certain applicants based on their degree results, EY will consider all applications from graduates dependent on the results they achieve on online tests.

Describing the hiring revamp as transformative, EY partner Maggie Stilwell said it will “open up opportunities for talented individuals regardless of their background, and provide greater access to the profession”.

PwC, meanwhile, has relaxed UCAS criteria to “drive radical changes” and “create a fairer and more modern system in which students are selected on their own merit”.

But with the skills gap debate still continuing, exam board AQA has introduced a new method of further education in the form of the Tech-level qualification – a move backed by employers and bodies including Microsoft, Siemens, Toshiba and the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

The move is in a bid to bridge the skills gap found in business, engineering and IT sectors, with more than 100 organisations all playing a part to design and structure the qualifications to make sure young applications walk away with the right knowledge.

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“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,” said Mike Morris at Microsoft Education UK.

As of this week, seven Tech-level are being introduced to colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

  • Business Marketing
  • Design Engineering
  • Mechatronic Engineering
  • Power Network Engineering
  • IT Networking
  • IT Programming
  • IT User Support

Building on those, two more will arrive in 2016 with Cyber Security and Entertainment Technology. The former is a particularly interesting area as the government united some 50 young experts together as part of a development challenge, while the latter will revolve around video games, which the AQA calls a “major UK growth industry”.

And in a world where today’s teenagers are commonly found face down in a smartphone, “soft skills” including teamwork, communication and problem-solving will also be taught on the courses.

Upon completion of a Tech-level – which has a top grade of 280 UCAS points – students will be able to move into employment, a higher education or advanced apprenticeship, or on to university.

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.”

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