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T Levels & Apprenticeships: What’s the Craic?

With the end of the school year fast approaching, you may find yourself wondering what your next steps should be. Maybe you’re struggling to decide between college, A-Levels, or apprenticeships. Maybe you’re a Year 12, struggling to manage sixth form.

The good news is, there are options out there.

I spoke to T-Level Student, Lucy McCracken, a nurse cadet at Lakes College, and Sam Foot, a Sustainability and Programmes Apprentice with BEC, to give you the low-down on some exciting career opportunities.

Opportunities you may be unfamiliar with or that can help you identify your final decisive factor in what steps you take for your future.

What are T-Levels?

If you’re Cumbrian, you’ve probably seen the T-Levels poster on the side of the Stagecoach double-deckers describing T-Levels as ‘the career-focused qualification for 16 to 19-year olds’.

T-Levels are a technical-based qualification developed with employers and businesses designed to offer an alternative pathway into the working world.

They can be particularly useful in more practical industries such as healthcare, teaching, and business.

The qualification is equal to three A-Levels in terms of UCAS points, meaning that you can go on to university or higher degree apprenticeships if you wish.

Lucy's Experience With T Levels

If you are someone who can’t think of anything worse than studying Maths, Chemistry, or Biology for another two years at sixth form, but know that healthcare is your passion - the Nurse Cadets (Health T-Level) course might be perfect for you!

Lucy is a nurse cadet at Lakes College. Her course is designed to immerse students in the healthcare industry, offering a more in-depth and hands-on approach to the medical world.

You can explore this course on the Lakes College website.

Lucy began her studies at sixth form, but realised that the unique approach to learning offered by T-Levels was much more suited to herself, and achieving her goals.

She said: “The T-Levels offer new pathways to careers, and if you build a relationship with your placement area, they recognise you when you come to apply for jobs”.

Lucy was also quick to highlight the lack of attention that T-Levels get in terms of offering them to students as a post-16 option:

“They’re only really advertised on buses, and even on placement nobody knows what they are. It’s a shame, really, because so many students take the wrong path, or feel as if there is only one path to their desired career".

“You have to do this research yourself to find out that learning doesn’t have to be a struggle, or that you can learn in a way that is specific to your desired industry and gives you that career’s experience”.

What is an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are one pathway that comes up almost every time post-school options are mentioned, but how much do you actually know about apprenticeships, and what they entail?

Much like T-Levels, apprenticeships equip you for the working world by dropping you straight into your desired career.

You gain the chance to learn from professionals, and connect with those in the industry, which greatly increases your chance at finding full-time employment after your course.

While T-Levels fluctuate between classroom and placement, still providing a collaborative, classroom environment, apprenticeships may only require one day of classes a week.

The most exciting prospect of apprenticeships, for many, is the chance to ‘earn as you learn’, as apprentice-providers pay their apprenticeships hourly for the work they do.

This is incredible for students with a specific pathway in mind with a desire to ‘get in there, and get started’, particularly if the idea of a Saturday job to support your studies doesn’t appeal to you.

Explore apprenticeships with Lakes College here.

Sam's Experience on his Apprenticeship

Sam is an apprentice with BEC, studying Level 4 Responsibility and Sustainability. Due to intimate course sizes, members of Sam’s course receive one-on-one tutoring.

“I go to college for an hour every two weeks,” Sam explains. On the apprenticeship placement, ‘I complete tasks set to me by my employer, which may make it seem like I’m desk bound, but I’m able to roam around the park doing more practical work too”.

Sam was driven to join the apprentice programme after completing his AS-Levels following his work experience placement with All Together Cumbria:

“On one of the days we went to Cockermouth School to talk about sustainability in the workplace, but it was the video that they played that really inspired me”. The video in question was from National Geographic, and you can view it for yourself here.

“Another factor was the open evening with BEC, where I had the chance to learn more about the company. The second open day happened to actually be the interview stage, but it was really easy going and I passed with flying colours!”.

Imparting some words of wisdom for future apprentices, Sam warned that “the course may seem to start really slowly. Stick with it! And remember to keep on top of your coursework - this will relieve a lot of stress”.

Speaking specifically about his apprenticeship, Sam’s employer offers him “private healthcare, discounts on health products, a competitive salary, and fairly flexible working hours”, making for a sustainable work-life balance.

Sam also comments that due to the small nature of the company, he “has the chance to get really and truly involved in the projects”. This complements his time at college, where he benefits from the ‘use of facilities and guidance from tutors’.

What to Take Away

Ultimately, you know what’s right for you - but as Lucy and Sam have told us, there’s no one pathway to achieving your goals.

While T-Levels may go unmentioned by schools, they may be exactly what you’re looking for, and I hope that the chance to hear authentic opinions from an apprentice well into his course has been useful if you are still on the fence.

Whatever decision you make, make the right one for you. This is your journey, and your education - ignore any pressures you may feel from school, or your peers, to conform to a certain route, and be sure to explore all of the options available to you.

And if you find out you made the wrong choice? That’s okay! There are always options.

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