From education to employment

Access all areas: Opening doors for apprentices with a disability

In May 2016, the government created a task force to support more people with disabilities to gain access into apprenticeships.

Back then, it was reported that just 6% of the workforce reported they had a disability, compared to 19% reported in April-June this year.

So, have apprenticeship opportunities improved for people with disabilities?

It appears that there are some improvements in the sector, but when you dig a little deeper into the data, the picture is not so rosy, as other datasets report 43.3% of those unemployed with disabilities are not actively looking for work, compared to 15.6% without a disability. This statistic reinforces my experience, that there is not enough of a supportive environment to encourage disabled people to declare their disability and support their needs.

Individuals have commented in the past that they are worried about the reaction they may get if they declare their learning difficulty or disability at application, or once in employment. It is also a concern that there is an assumption that some job roles are not for people with disabilities, and that employers do not make it clear on application that they are open to a diverse workforce, and will be able to make reasonable adjustments.

In an independent report the then Minister for Skills Nick Boles MP promised that it:

“will focus on how apprenticeships can be more accessible to people with learning disabilities so everyone can be part of the apprenticeships success story.”

With such a welcome announcement, and an overall target of two million disabled apprentices in work by 2020, “Opening up apprenticeships and the world of work to people with a learning disability” from Mencap reports that the government is on track to deliver its target.

The taskforce concentrated its recommendations on a number of areas, such as changing the level required for English and maths achievement required by the apprenticeship standard, if this is a barrier to employment.

Further work is also underway with providers to make sure reasonable adjustments are put in place for apprentices with learning difficulties and disabilities to be able to undertake requirements of the End Point Assessment.

Training is given to educate employers and apprenticeship providers to review the language they use in the recruitment process to ensure that it makes disabled people more comfortable with letting prospective employers know about their needs.

Role of employers

It is the employers that also play a key role in providing the opportunities in an apprenticeship, and for them there are also many barriers to recruiting an apprentice, which need more support – leaving the question of whether the employer can afford to provide the time or effort to recruit them. When this is not implemented robustly, some apprentices have reported a poor working culture and environment.

A new report Access to Apprenticeships” by the Open University has found that the top five barriers to recruitment centre around access to information and support for apprentices to make an informed decision. 

With 64% of employers stating that they have a willingness to provide opportunities and support, the question is how do we bridge the knowledge gap to assist employers in overcoming these challenges?

While it is acknowledged by both employers and providers of apprenticeships that there is always more financial support the government can offer, universities, colleges and training providers have access to funding, guidance and advice, which can support employers to have access to training, knowledge and funding support for apprenticeships.

However, with a rise in mental health conditions, and the level and complexity of additional support required to cover a wide range of support needed in apprenticeships, it means that often the funding and support does not spread far enough, and the rules are often too rigid.

Raising aspirations

Raising aspirations’ is something that the University of Derby works on with all of its apprentices, and it ensures that neither a learning need, mental health issue or a physical disability, should prevent an employer from taking on an apprentice.

Like the University of Derby, apprenticeship providers can use a range of support for apprentices, and most good providers believe that apprentices who have individualised support tailored to their needs are more likely to succeed.

Examples of this support can be:

  1. Access to specific government funding posts to support apprentices with disabilities, and learning support needs
  2. Addressing the need to be flexible, and identifying how to support needs
  3. Excellence in teaching and learning, by contextualising the apprenticeship with the employers to fit around an apprentice’s needs
  4. Using specific technologies which help apprentices and their line managers adapt their training
  5. Providing training for employers of apprentices with specific needs, to raise awareness of how apprenticeships can work for people with a disability or learning difficulty
  6. Information for parents on how to support their child, without it negatively affecting the apprenticeship
  7. Supporting employers to embrace a culture change in their business, by providing information, advice and networking opportunities
  8. Lobby the government in raising awareness of how and what is required to ensure apprenticeships are a route to supporting those with disability’s into work and training.

Jane Lowe, Head of Apprenticeships at the University of Derby

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