National Apprentice Week – Accessible Apprenticeships

Posted 09/02/2023

As part of National Apprenticeship Week, Unity Works’ Learning and Skills Manager Suzanne Thomson will be taking a deep dive into apprenticeships and why we should do more to embed inclusion, diversity and accessibility. Today, she’s looking at how progress on developing “accessible apprenticeships” has been slow to materialise.

Progress for accessible apprenticeships has been frustratingly slow. In 2012, Peter Little1 emphasised that learners with a learning disability must be seen as priority and made 20 recommendations for creating inclusive offers. These included:

  • Recommendations around accurately monitoring numbers of applicants, starts and completers who declared a learning disability (e.g., 3, 7 and 9)
  • Recommendations around sharing good practice and developing innovative new models of apprenticeships, such as working with specialist providers/people with lived experience, seeking out and providing good quality awareness training, understanding and promoting funding options, and recognising the link between appropriate 1:1 support and success (e.g., 5, 13, 15,16,17 and 18)
  • Recommendations around carefully reviewing criteria such as targets which may act as a barrier, especially if implemented without consultation or consideration of reasonable adjustments (e.g., 14)

Almost exactly 10 years later, Disability Rights UK published ‘Getting it Right for Disabled Apprentices2’ highlighting the importance of support such as good mentorship, normalising conversations about disability, awareness training and knowledge of funding options such as Access to Work.

Here, we hear from someone we supported to find an apprenticeship:

Let’s see… For one, being an apprentice made me feel really grateful for the perks I got which may have not been present if I had taken another route in my career such as completing a self-funded university course or having a regular job. I was grateful for my apprenticeship’s perks such as gaining relevant qualifications, not requiring me to take a loan to pay for my education, instantly earning money even in my off-the-job (qualification studying) hours, gaining real experience in my job sector, and having a guaranteed job in the case of successful apprenticeship completion. Also, another thing worth mentioning which I have found fantastic is the fact that I have been given regular Monday to Friday hours of work which, unlike randomly dotted study periods in universities and colleges, gave me more routine with study work start, end, and break times rather than having to organise my study time myself on doing homework from lessons. This routine made me more motivated and stopped me from working till late hours and burning myself out from too little breaks. Being an apprentice also led me to meeting new people which I’ve spent some great times with.

To conclude, we know people with a learning disability want to do apprenticeships. We know they can succeed when they can work within systems that recognise their skills, their potential, and work to reduce or remove barriers that have no bearing on their ability to do a job. We want employers and apprenticeship providers to know this too, and be aware of the reasonable adjustments that can be made to support an applicant who has a learning disability- for example, if someone has an EHCP, it is possible to drop the literacy and numeracy entry standard to Entry Level 3. Working with specialist providers to support people through the recruitment stages can be transformative, and springboard someone into their career.

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