Progression from T Levels to Internships: the case of IBM


This is one of several resources showing different opportunities open to T Level students when they finish their T Level course.

The employer

IBM is one of the world’s biggest IT and consulting services company, providing infrastructure, software and expertise to help businesses make the best use of digital transformation. The company operates in over 170 countries including the UK where it has a long-established presence. It runs a successful apprenticeship programme, transforming school leavers from diverse backgrounds into experienced IT professionals. It also runs an innovative Futures Scheme offering a year’s paid internship for those who are unsure of what to do after leaving school.

IBM hosted its first two T Level students on industry placements in 2018-19. It has gradually expanded the number of placements every year since then, and in 2023-24 is hosting more than 30 students from three different providers.

Opportunities for students

“There are no limits on what students can do in their careers”

IBM views T Levels as a starting point for individual career choices that students make, whether at IBM or elsewhere. Students are encouraged to consider different  ways of  developing their knowledge and skills further once they have completed the T Level, and to apply for jobs across the whole industry.

Given the range of opportunities open to them, a relatively small number of students have progressed straight from the T Level into IBM jobs. Of the two students who were employed from the 2023 cohort of T Level graduates, one works in IBM’s AI & Analytics Practice team and is also doing a Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship, while the other has started a Futures Scheme placement as a business consultant.

Rabia Nadeem is nearing the end of her Digital Production, Design and Development T Level which included a placement in IBM’s London office. She’s been offered a year’s place as in intern on the Futures Scheme and sees it as a great opportunity to develop her technical and business skills.

“I really liked the opportunity to think and collaborate with my peers when I did my placement,” she says. “I’ll be able to develop my technical skills much more on the internship. And I’ll be learning business skills as well in my role as project support.”

Progression pathway IBM.png

Students who apply for a job at IBM go through the same recruitment process as anyone else. They can also apply for an apprenticeship. There is no doubt that their experience on the placement and the training they receive in completing application forms, answering questions at interview, and conducting themselves in group assessments, is an advantage in the competition for jobs.

The other five students in the 2023 placement cohort have all gone on to study at university. One of them may come back to work at IBM and all the 2024 cohort students have applied back to IBM, but for Foundation Manager Anna Withrington this isn’t the main point. She views progression into a degree as a very positive outcome from T Level placements: “There are no limits on what they can do in their careers”.

Placement models – learning from experience

From the start, IBM ’s approach to industry placements has been to try out different placement models with different providers, learn from them, and work out which work best.


For its first two T Level students, IBM organised the placements around ‘sprints’ – short periods of work usually lasting two weeks. Sprints are often used in systems and software development, so the model suited IBM’s approach to planning and delivering projects. Less so for the college, which found it hard to manage the students’ attendance patterns to fit in with their teaching plans.

Day release

The next round of placements, with a different provider, also proved problematic. This time the problem came from the opposite direction. The college chose a day release model, with students coming into their placement for two days a week during pre-determined periods. The model meant that the college could more easily organise placements around their teaching plan, but it didn’t match IBM’s normal working patterns very well.


The following year was unusual because of the changes to ordinary working patterns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Determined to give students the chance to benefit from placements despite restrictions, IBM agreed with its new provider (a school in West London) to try out a virtual model with a small group of seven students. It worked well, so the next year a similar model was used in which 60 students from several different providers attended their placements in short 2-week blocks.

Split placements

IBM’s next trial involved splitting placements over both years of the T Level course and delivering them jointly with another employer. Sixteen students were involved, ten in Year 1 and six in Year 2. They spent part of their placement time in IBM’s London office and part with the other employer. Their first two weeks in IBM were spent learning about the company and meeting people who work in it, after which they started to work on projects in two-week blocks.

Refining the model

Having found a placement model that seems to work well, IBM continues to try out new approaches and learn from them. Its current programme uses a very similar approach to IBM’s other programmes for early professionals. It involves 30-plus students in three different providers, including students on business administration as well as digital T Levels. Students spend most of their placement time working in short blocks on digital challenges and projects, producing proofs of concept that show how they can contribute to real outcomes for the company.

Students also spend a day a week learning how to make the most of the opportunities that their placements offer, broadening their horizons, and understanding how they can improve their employability skills. Interns help to manage the placements and provide students with aspirational models for their own careers.

Key lessons about the placements

“Being on an industry placement at IBM is a privilege as well as an opportunity”

Anna Withrington is Foundation Manager at IBM, responsible for its internship and T Level programmes. As a programmer and project manager herself, and the Chair of the employer panel that developed the digital T Level, she is well placed to be the architect of IBM’s experimental, evolutionary approach to industry placements.

The last six years’ experience of T Levels has resulted in valuable lessons about students and providers, which apply to employers generally as well as IBM.


“I’ve learned a lot about the students,” she says first. “Almost all of them have completed their placements, a lot have done very well, but a few haven’t reached the standards we set ourselves.”

“Most of the students are well disciplined and work hard during their placements, but we have seen some disruptive behaviours as well, especially in the early days. Things like not being on time for work, instant messaging their friends in work time, giving flippant answers to questions. We talked to the students and their colleges and only had to remove one student from their placement in the end.”

“Now we make it clear to students from the start that being on an industry placement at IBM is a privilege as well as an opportunity. We set clear expectations and ground rules for how they should behave. And we make sure that some of the people they interact with are around the same ages and stage of development as them, so they see good role models for these behaviours in our apprentices and interns.”


“It’s been a mixed experience with T Level providers’” says Anna. “Some of the colleges and schools we’ve worked with  know what’s needed to make placements successful. They spend time planning with us in advance and we’ve learned to work well together.”

“A good example is the guidance and support we’ve had recently from one provider about adjusting for students with special education needs or disabilities. We’ve had some students who are diagnosed ADHD, and the college has helped us to organise the placements into short sessions, with lots of interactivity and plenty of breaks.”

“Other providers we’ve worked with seem to be struggling to get organised with T Levels. But there’s less trial and error now in who we partner and how we work with them. We‘ve evolved a good model for placements, we understand what works best for us and students, and that means we have an effective framework for building partnerships with providers as well.”

Was this page helpful? Yes this article was useful No this article wasn't useful

You have 500 characters remaining