Students in Further Education are starting new Tech-level qualifications from AQA – which are backed by industry and designed to address skills gaps in Business, Engineering and IT.
AQA has worked with employers and professional bodies – including Siemens, Toshiba and the Chartered Institute of Marketing – from the very first stages of development. More than a hundred organisations have contributed to the design, structure and assessment of the qualifications in order to ensure they equip young people with the right specialist skills.
The Tech-levels are part of AQA's response to the 2011 Wolf Report, which said that many vocational courses were failing to help students' career prospects.
Seven Tech-levels are being offered in colleges from this week: Business Marketing; Design Engineering; Mechatronic Engineering; Power Network Engineering; IT Networking; IT Programming and IT User Support.
These will be joined next year by two more Tech-levels in Cyber Security and Entertainment Technology. The latter will address the need for more people skilled at creating video games – a major UK growth industry.
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. For example, a student taking a Tech-level in IT Networking will learn about problem-solving, research and communication in the context of diagnosing an issue with a computer network, researching, selecting and presenting the options for solutions to a client, and using their skills to fix the problem.
Students with Tech-levels will be able to go straight into employment, a higher or advanced apprenticeship, or on to university. The qualifications carry UCAS points – with the top grade being worth 280 points.
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."
Mike Morris at 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."
Anne Godfrey, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said: "Because the performance and outcomes are mapped to relevant national standards and have been developed in collaboration with employers and bodies such as ourselves, it means the knowledge and competencies developed are relevant."
AQA's Tech-levels are available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.