From education to employment

Apprenticeship and Neurodiversity – recognising intrapreneurship

Professor Amanda Kirby is the CEO of Do-IT Solutions

There are apprentice placements to match the strengths and talents of all. There is something for everyone –for those with analytical, caring, science, practical or creative skills and for those wanting to work in large and smaller working environments.

In order attract and support the talents of every person we also need to ensure there are equal opportunities for engagement for those wishing to become an apprentice. One key challenge has arisen during Covid-19 has been how to effectively train and support the learner remotely.

How do employers benefit from having an apprentice?

The government apprenticeship site states there is a real impact for each employer:

  • 86% of employers said apprenticeships helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation.
  • 78% of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve productivity
  • 74% of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve the quality of their product or service

Recognising all talent

Having a neurodiverse workforce with a range of talents is good for all organisations.

Neurodiversity is all about cognitive diversity in the way we think, see and perceive the world, and the way we communicate and act differently. Around 1 in 4 to 5 apprentices may be neurodivergent i.e., their cognitive style(s) may vary from the mainstream. It is important to recognise that every person has a ‘spiky profile’ with both strengths and challenges. The aim of an apprenticeship will be to maximise the strengths. However, some people have a spikier profile, with greater peaks of talents in some areas and dips in others. The areas of challenge may relate to the person’s cognitive diversity and/or can be affected by the setting they are working in, or related to home factors, or combinations of all of the above. Each person’s story will be different and each person’s support needs are unique.

Apprenticeship providers, colleges and employers may also use terms such as Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD) and Specific Learning Difficulties as a framing to support some learners who show a neurodivergent profile. Neurodivergence has been associated with conditions such as, but not limited to, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Coordination Disorder / Dyspraxia and Developmental Language Disorder.

What is key to remember is that overlap across neurodivergent traits is very common and that no two people with a similar diagnosis will actually be exactly the same in their support needs or specific pattern of strengths and challenges. One person with Dyslexia may have predominant challenges with spelling and another with reading comprehension. The first person may also have difficulties communicating verbally and the second person may have additional challenges relating to ADHD traits such as with time management. They may have other co-occurring traits that are very different from each other including the presence of other physical and psychological health conditions. Alongside this will be differences in gender, culture, their current and past experiences, and their home settings. No two persons are alike.

We need from over simplistic views of support such as : “People with autism need noise cancelling head -phones” and “People with Dyslexia need beige paper”! A set of strategies relating to specific aspects of challenge maybe helpful such as associated with written communication or in a specific setting such as online interactions. They are less helpful attached to labels as a knee-jerk approach. This has been somewhat of a challenge to be able to determine what is needed at a person-centred level as it felt too much of a task, take too much time and would be challenging for employers of all sizes and apprenticeship providers. It would have also been impossibly difficult to undertake remotely.

Do-IT Neurodiversity Apprentice Profiler has been developed after extensive testing. It is a web-based accessible modular screening and assessment system that can be accessed remotely. It has been used by 1000s’ of learners and apprentices. Each person can complete the profiler from anywhere. It not only screens for neurodiversity traits (identifying both strengths and challenges) but also considers the learner’s study skills and supports their wellbeing. It gathers information to help create a support plan understanding specifically where challenges lie and also understanding what works for that person. It also provides instant guidance for both the trainer as well as the learner.

One forward-thinking organisation, Impact Futures, has been using the Profiler system to target support very successfully and using it with all learners at the start of their journey with them. Their thousands of learners are people of all ages and different life experiences. Single parents and parents with several children, people who have lost businesses and their jobs during Covid-19, and those with entry qualifications and others with masters’ degrees along with some who speak several languages and others who struggle with spelling and writing. Some people describe themselves as social, bubbly, outgoing and others a shy, compassionate, and hard-working.

Impact Futures recognise that there is not one typical apprentice and by definition not one type of person who is neurodivergent. Guy Helman, CEO says:

“We have found the tool invaluable for our learners so we get to know each learner from Day 1, and we can deliver training to meet their needs directly and remotely. It has particularly helped us to get to know those with communication, wellbeing or neurodivergent profiles and work to maximise their strengths”.

The benefits of apprenticeships for neurodivergent learners

The potential to learn on the job may be an ideal scenario especially for people who are neurodivergent. Seeing and applying new skills in ‘real-time’ can really reinforce learning in the classroom and can be a practical route to success.

For some, the beginning of an apprenticeship maybe more challenging. Some learners may be returning to learning after a long break and it may be the first time having to formally study or have gaps in study skills that have always been there and limited their advancement. For others, it may be arriving in a novel environment and learning a new skill for the first time is challenging. Putting in some specific workplace and learning adjustments in a timely manner can make all the difference to success or failure.

We can sometimes falsely assume that people will self-disclose and arrive on Day 1 with the apprenticeship provider with a diagnosis and articulate the support they need. However, the apprenticeship pathway often attracts learners who may have had a more non-traditional route through education and into employment. For example, 17% of apprenticeships in one provider setting had been excluded from school. Additionally, many learners may not have been previously identified in school as having a ‘specific’ learning difficulty. This is especially true for older learners, those who have moved around the education system, coming from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups, and those who have been in care.

Appropriate identification and tailored support can aid the retention of the apprentices. In England apprenticeship providers can also draw down Learning Support Funding to help provide this support. Do-IT Profiler apprenticeship tools effectively identify who needs support and deliver person-centred practical guidance.

Most support once identified is relatively easy to put in place but it helps to see what each learner needs. You can see this with some examples of support required and comments from some learners:

Break the task down so I understand it then introduce using the proper terminology.”

“I benefit from instructions being rephrased”.

“Physically being shown”.

I like clear deadlines and precise feedback.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of studying. I feel it’s important for me to fully understand the task in hand in order to not become overwhelmed. I am likely to ask plenty of questions.”

Recognising intrapreneurship in neurodivergent apprentices

Maximising the talents of each apprentice can bring increased productivity. Neurodivergent learners can be entrepreneurial and also offer an organisation new ideas and novel solutions. Moore et al from Oklahoma suggested that the neurodivergent traits associated with ADHD are meaningfully related to aspects of an entrepreneurial mindset. Their work suggests that entrepreneurs with ADHD employ a more intuitive cognitive style and demonstrate high levels of entrepreneurial alertness. A survey nearly twenty years ago (2003) commissioned by BBC2 for Mind of a Millionaire, found evidence that 40% of entrepreneurs are likely to be dyslexic, four times the national average.

Entrepreneurship in the UK is our future in order to expand business and see new businesses thrive. We can start by developing intrapreneurship skills in apprentices. An intrapreneur works inside an organisation and can develop an innovative idea or project that can enhance the company or organisation’s future. While an apprentice is learning new skills at the same time, they could also be given autonomy to work on a project that may have a considerable impact on the organisation. Over time, a neurodivergent intrapreneur may turn into your next entrepreneur!

Professor Amanda Kirby is the CEO of Do-IT Solutions – ( a tech-for-good company that has developed web- based screening tools for apprentice and other learning and workplace settings ( and an emeritus professor at University of South Wales).

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