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GMI T Level Construction students lay foundations for future careers

Laying solid foundations for a career in construction was the motivation behind choosing the T Level Design, Surveying and Planning course for York College students Harry Dunne and Sam Shepherd.

The second-year pair are on placement with the GMI Construction Group at their James Street student accommodation development in York and, as we mark Progression Month at College, both are considering a degree apprenticeship as their next step.

A degree apprenticeship allows students to continue gaining experience in the workplace, whilst also entering Higher Education on a day-release basis with tuition fees being covered by the employers.

It is becoming a popular route into university for T Level students, as they combine furthering their academic learning with honing their on-site skills.

The two-year T Level course also requires 315 work placement hours and, on the appeal of the pathway it can provide, Harry said: “I became interested in construction because my stepdad and stepbrother work in the industry and I feel this course gives you an overview of it and plenty of options. Other courses don’t necessarily lead you directly to a job, say if I’d done History or something like that, but you can see the pathway with a T Level.

“I feel that it leads you into a job more than other routes you could take at 16 and I like the work experience aspect, because this is what I’ll be doing eventually and I’m learning how everything is done in the real world. It’s better seeing it, than hearing it - that helps a lot.

“At the start of the course, I was interested in becoming a civil engineer or architect. I think I’m leaning more towards being a civil engineer now, but I’m not dead set on it yet.

“GMI also do degree apprenticeships where you do one day at uni and get paid to do that, while the rest of the time you are working, which is good because you’re still learning on the job.”

Harry has also enjoyed the T Level balance between work-site experience and College tuition, which has been further enhanced in 2024 with the opening of our multi-million pound Construction Centre Extension.

“There’s lots of equipment that we use in College that we also work on during our placement,” Harry pointed out. “We get an overview of everything and I find the 3D modelling really useful.”

On his motivation for choosing the Design, Surveying and Planning T Level and his hopes for where it might lead, Sam added: “I did both Graphic Design and Media as GCSEs and have always felt like I wanted to get into design and, on the Graphic course, half of it was designing buildings, so this course seemed to be an expansion of that.

“I saw it in the College prospectus and thought, ‘You know what, I like the sound of that’. It includes a bit of graphics and design and so many other subjects, too.

“It sounded like the T Level had a bit of everything. It’s not just a set course because, if I’d taken Maths for example, that’s all you do but, with this T Level, there’s 15 different subjects in it and we also do a lot of site visits, which is always something to look forward to.

“I liked the course first and, then, gaining some work experience was an added bonus, because you get to see what you’ve been taught in real life and it also gives you a better first-hand experience of what you’re signing yourself up to career wise. Ideally, after the course I’d want to go into an apprenticeship.

“Some people at GMI have also gone to uni for one day a week, which the company paid for, and you’re at work for the rest of the week, so it’s a bit like the T Level and that would be the ideal route that’s in my head really.”

Outlining the variety of duties he has undertaken and skills he has acquired with GMI, Sam said: “We shadow the site manager and site engineer and, when you do that, you’re putting away the pen and paper and seeing real life. We do some surveying and examine how the build is going along and check that everything is up-to-date, while taking measurements to make sure that everything can fit in the right places.

“Sometimes, you can’t even be a couple of millimetres out. We also check which bits of the project have been completed and which still need to be completed.

“I really enjoy doing the surveying and using all the machinery. It’s been great to get stuck in and get my hands dirty – you can’t recreate that in a classroom.”

Harry and Sam were the two successful candidates from a field of five who applied for the GMI T Level placements, giving them valuable experience of a professional interview process.

On their contribution to the company and conduct at work, GMI Senior Site Manager Mitch Blockley said: “Both Harry and Sam are always on time and their attendance is good. They’ve taken on every task we have given them and tried to complete it the best they can.

“They listen, ask questions and try and learn from everything we ask them to do. They also introduce stuff that they have learned at College here.

“We’ve had them looking at drawings and doing some quantity surveying. They have also been on site checking measurements of windows and doors from drawings.

“They walk around with me doing weekly health and safety checks too and we’ve had them doing some digital filing so they can get used to the different systems here. They’ve also been out with the site engineer checking brickwork.”

On the benefits of the College/work placement balance, Mitch reasoned: “You need the site experience, so it’s great that they see both sides with the T Level. There are too many people now who have come from college or university and don’t understand how to build.

“It’s easy on paper, but an architect’s job is not just to design something pretty – it’s to design something buildable and we can explain that to them here. They also get to sit in all the meetings we have to attend, and learn about all the different characters and people you encounter on a construction site.”

Mitch went on to stress how a T Level can provide the perfect opportunity for both employers and students to “showcase” what they can offer each other.

“It works both ways,” he explained. “They’ve got to like the company first and, then, we’ve got to like them but, if they are putting the effort in, showing that they want to be here and do well, then we might think, ‘You know what, they’ve really impressed us, let’s take them on’.

“It’s definitely a chance for them to showcase their talent and what they’re about and, hopefully, they can get a job out of it whether that’s with us or not, because I’m sure other employers would contact us for a reference to ask how they did on their placements.”

GMI Head of Responsible Business Claire Preston also outlined the value of T Levels to the company in terms of recruitment potential.

“T Levels are a fantastic way of getting to know your future workforce and the placement gives students the opportunity to work with all disciplines in the construction industry and, hopefully, we can help them pick their career path,” she enthused. “We have recruited 18 students on T Level placements across the North of England and our goal is to increase that to 40 by the end of 2024, including two more from York College.”

To learn more about our Design, Surveying and Planning T Level, please click here

For general information on our full T Level and Vocational offering, please click here