Meet T Levels Ambassador Hugh McPhillips

Blogs 5 Sep 2022

Wondering how T Level industry placements can benefit your business? FSB member Hugh McPhillips IEng, MWeldI, AWS, shares the importance of building a skilled workforce for the future and how the new qualification can support this.

Hugh McPhillips is a consultant specialising in fabrication and welder training and is also the Managing Director of Generic Education Training Services Limited. Hugh has a wealth of experience in the mechanical engineering industry, including teaching fabrication, welding, heating and ventilation. As a T Levels Ambassador, he’s passionate about engaging with local colleges and students to ensure vital skills are passed on to the next generation. 

How did you get to where you are today? 

I did a formal apprenticeship with Kodak before completing a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Fabrication and Welding Engineering. While I was at college, I made a few enquiries about what it would be like to work in the teaching profession. After I left, I had a call to say that there was a position available at the college I had trained at.  

Over the years I’ve worked with leading awarding bodies, drawing up examinations and marking papers. I was also curriculum manager and workshop manager for a large section in the engineering department. After 35 years, I took early retirement and set up my own consultancy.  

Since then, I’ve been actively involved with colleges up and down the country, giving advice and making them aware of upcoming changes or new ways of presenting information. For example, distance learning programmes are highly interactive and designed to appeal to more people, something that was noticeable through the pandemic. 

Why are you passionate about helping people develop their skills? 

A lot of people don’t realise their potential. Sometimes you need to have a go at something to find out what you might like. I’m keen on running taster courses through colleges during enrolment periods so people can get a flavour of what the industry does.  

One of the advantages of the new T Levels is that it’s a broad curriculum to start with and a range of specialism that you may feel you have the most interest in. So, this could be an electrical engineer, working on welding or fabrication pipe, being a machinist or any number of occupations. This gives a student a solid grounding. In some cases, it can also reduce the apprenticeship period because you’ve already done a lot of the underpinning work beforehand.  

I’m a WorldSkills UK judge, where young people take part in competitions nationally and internationally, covering virtually every trade including hairdressing, gardening, construction, motor vehicle repair and more. It’s about passing our skills legacy down to another generation and making them aware of the career potential that they have.  

The challenge with education provision is funding. Under 21, nearly all courses are funded, and colleges don’t have any problems finding young people. Above this age, people might be looking to change job direction, but there’s little funding. It’s these people who may provide the resources to meet the skills gap, some with prior knowledge who can be fast tracked through the system. We also need to focus on encouraging more women into engineering and other trades to have a rewarding and challenging career. 

How can T Levels benefit businesses? 

With the 45-day industrial placement, this gives the young person work experience to see if they like the industry. It also gives the employer an opportunity to see the student as a potential employee and whether they might bring them into the team in the long run.  

I’m an ambassador for T Levels in the South West of England and there is a network of ambassadors who you can contact for advice. Organisations like the Institute for Apprenticeships and City & Guilds also run workshops and seminars to explain the benefits and the requirements in order to run the scheme.  

In engineering for example, a fifth of the current workforce is due to retire in the next five years, and the vacuum that’s there now doesn’t take into consideration all the new infrastructure in progress. 

What advice do you have for business owners currently facing skills gaps? 

We need a well-educated workforce which is adaptable and can take on the challenges of the future. There are a lot of challenges out there, but there’s nothing that cannot be overcome.  

Lots of small companies might only take on one or two people to train up, but it’s imperative that the individual fits into the environment and has a good experience. When an employer recognises the benefits of the training, going forward this will encourage them to take on more people in the long term. 

It’s great that FSB are now promoting this and looking at where you’re going to get your next employees, how you’re going to look after them, and how you’re going to promote them forwards to benefit your business. For the skills shortage, we need a plan for the next 20 years so we can have a workforce going forwards that will bring wealth and opportunity to everyone in the UK.  

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