Mike Thompson, Head of Apprenticeships at Barclays

One of the biggest challenges currently facing the apprenticeship system is how to widen access and use them to provide pathways to skills and employment for all parts of society. Despite the rise in numbers of apprenticeship starts over the past decade, there are still certain groups seeing high levels of unemployment who could benefit from improved access to apprenticeships. For example, almost 50 per cent of young people in the UK with a disability are unemployed and we should see this as a cause for concern.

However you look at it, the statistics make for heavy reading. Nearly four in 10 people think of people with disabilities as less productive than non-disabled people. People with disabilities are nearly four times as likely to be unemployed or involuntarily out of work as non-disabled people. On top of this, the pay gap between people with disabilities and people without disabilities has increased by 35 per cent since 2010.

We need to create more accessible workplaces, more equal opportunities and promote innovative assistive technologies to open doors to people with disabilities – helping create more employment opportunities, while enabling businesses to benefit from an untapped and diverse pool of talent. Apprenticeships have the potential to be a fantastic vehicle to provide the extra support needed by those with a disability.

At Barclays, we have adapted our programme to provide greater access to jobs across our business for people with physical or mental health disabilities.

Before we started our programme, the percentage of new recruits within Barclays with a declared disability was only three per cent; now over 10 per cent of our recruits have a declared disability and this is rising as we work more closely with this group of individuals.

This year, we have created a new pilot scheme that aims to help people with disabilities gain valuable experience in the workplace, while addressing some of the myths surrounding the accessibility of banking: it’s called Able to Enable. Set up in conjunction with Remploy, one of the UK’s leading diversity and inclusion employment experts, the pilot gives two people with disabilities the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Personal Banking.

It will allow them to learn new skills and support the business while growing their experience and confidence. Upon completion of the scheme, depending on their experience and performance, interns will receive either an apprenticeship, a certificate of completion or move into a permanent position as a full-time employee.

The experience of Jonathan, an Able to Enable intern, shows how much a programme like this is needed. Jonathan has a history of mental health problems with periods of serious depression and became unemployed in his 50s following a nervous breakdown.

Despite having experience working as a barrister, in property management and accountancy, he found it almost impossible to get back into work except on a voluntary basis. 

“I didn’t think Barclays would touch me with a bargepole; I didn’t think the banking sector would even consider taking someone on with the barriers that I’ve faced, and for that reason I’d never considered applying for jobs with a bank,” Jonathan said. “It’s a real shame to consider the vast amount of talent that’s being missed by employers just because of some form of disability.”

“This is going to be a very interesting and fulfilling journey – it’s a completely fresh start for me and I’ve found the whole process to date really affirmative and very positive indeed. I can already see my path ahead – the support and structured training I will receive makes it all manageable. Barclays is here to see me succeed and that is something really new for me.”

Ultimately, Barclays wants to dispel the myth that banking is an inaccessible career for people with disabilities and enable the business to gain dedicated team members who reflect the values of the company.

We hope that offering people with disabilities the chance to gain valuable work experience and providing them with an immersive, fully-supported programme will set them on the path to success. I for one am hugely excited about the excellent opportunities the scheme could offer in the future.

Mike Thompson, Head of Apprenticeships at Barclays

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