TECHNICAL qualifications are undergoing sweeping reforms, and a North East college is at the forefront of helping to shape new educational policy.

Sunderland College has been chosen by the government to pilot a new work placement programme that is designed to deliver huge benefits to students in technical education.

It is the only college in the region and one of only six across the country involved in the pilot that are being supported directly by the government. Another 15 providers are also participating in the pilot via a regional programme, overseen by The Challenge charity, that take place in London, the North West and the Midlands.

The Department for Education (DfE) is overhauling all technical qualifications – which ministers say are viewed as the ‘poor relation’ to A-Levels – as part of its Post-16 skills plan, unveiled last year.

One of the major changes adopted by the government, following an independent review, is the introduction of substantial, high quality work placements as a mandatory part of the new T Levels – technical study programmes, which will be introduced from 2020.

This will allow students to spend a significant portion of their course working in businesses and industries that are relevant to their studies and future career.

DfE has launched the pilot scheme ahead of the introduction of T Levels, which will see the colleges partner-up with employers to provide work placements to students in the 2017-18 academic year.

Judith Quinn, Sunderland College’s vice principal (curriculum and achievement), said: “Within the current technical framework, there is scope for students to carry out work experience, however this tends to be shorter placements that are usually one to two weeks long.

“The introduction of longer work placements, that have a real focus on equipping students with the experience and skills they need to secure a job in their chosen career, is something that will have a major impact on all students who choose the technical route into the world of work.

“Sunderland College is very pleased to be part of this pilot that will ultimately inform the way providers across the country deliver technical education, and help to address the skills shortage that many sectors in our region are facing.”

The new T Levels will comprise of 15 ‘routes’ identified by the government that complement business and industry sectors.

Sunderland College has focused on four routes – digital, engineering, health, and catering and hospitality – for the pilot.

Work placements, ranging from 40 to 60 days, have been secured for almost 70 students in a number of high profile organisations, including Sunderland Care and Support, Marriott Sunderland, Radisson Blu Durham, Hilton Garden Inn, IPB Testing and Warmfloor Solutions.

The first wave of placements begin at the end of October and Sunderland College will feedback to the government throughout the pilot.

Judith added: “The college will be working closely with DfE to share good practice and to highlight any areas that may need to be reviewed before it is rolled-out. Our focus during this pilot is for our students to access top class skills training and mentoring support, and we will be working alongside employers to ensure the pilot runs smoothly.

“This is an exciting development for technical education, and one that the college is wholeheartedly embracing. Employers will be met with young people who are not only highly skilled but are work ready, and that can only lead to a brighter future for our economy and young people.”

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said: “I am delighted Sunderland College are taking part in these important pilots. The new T level programme will give young people a high quality technical education, and with these vital work placements will help them gain the workplace skills that employers and our economy needs.

“We recognise that this will be a shift in practice for the Post 16 sector, so we have launched this new pilot scheme to trial approaches and make sure work placements are as effective as possible.”