Apprenticeships: Why we need to embed inclusion, diversity and accessibility

Posted 06/02/2023

Over the next five days, Unity Works' Learning and Skills Manager, Suzanne Thomson, will be taking a look into apprenticeships and why we should do more to embed inclusion, diversity and accessibility. Today, she’s looking at the question: How many disabled apprentices are there?

As we head into National Apprenticeship Week, we wanted to discuss inclusion, diversity, and accessibility (when don’t we?!). You will definitely have heard of apprenticeships and will almost certainly have an idea of what one entails.

Apprenticeships are a great way for ‘‘potential employees to learn by doing – which can be invaluable for a broad range of learners and provide opportunities for those who might not have experienced the typical higher education journey to break into high-demand fields. For employers, apprenticeships provide a new talent source” (Forbes, November 20221).

However, we should not overlook people who learn best by doing and who may have also been excluded from further education and mainstream schooling due to a learning disability and the value of opening up employment pathways in all sectors and levels.

In the academic year 2021/22, there were just under 350,000 apprentice starts. Just over 150,000 (about 43%) of these were on ‘advanced’ apprenticeships, and 106,000 (about 30%) were on ‘higher’ apprenticeships. Such apprenticeships are often (although not always) inaccessible to people with a learning disability due to the levels of prior attainment required, particularly in literacy and numeracy. Just 47,500 apprentices declared a learning disability, accounting for 14% of all apprentices in 2021/22 (Explore Education Statistics, December 20222).

The way this information is gathered does obscure accessibility needs somewhat. Data is not reliably gathered solely for people with a learning disability applying for, starting and/or successfully completing a formal apprenticeship, instead conflating it with data on people with a specific learning disability such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and/or ADHD. Whereas a specific learning disability affects one key domain of learning and information processing, a learning disability (known as intellectual disability in Europe and the USA) affects all domains of learning and is likely to mean that person needs additional support.

This is a hugely missed opportunity, as if we do not have access to the data, we cannot accurately say if accessibility in formal apprenticeships is working. All we at Unity Works can say is that people we support want equality of access to work and training opportunities, and their journey to achieving these aspirations is longer, with more rejections and setbacks, than their non-disabled peers.

Keep reading tomorrow to learn more about what we are doing to address this.

For more information contact Suzanne Thomson, Learning & Skills Manager, at