National Apprenticeship Week – Apprentices’ experiences

Posted 07/02/2023

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 people with a learning disability's experiences in apprenticeships.

Whilst concerns around the reliability of data collected on people with a learning disability accessing formal apprenticeship remain, this is not to say that there have not been initiatives, or that people have not succeeded.

In 2016, Paul Maynard MP chaired a taskforce1 to address the low take-up rate of apprenticeships among people with a learning disability, noting that the employment rate was then around 6.8% (since then, the number of people with a learning disability fell to 5.9% and following the Covid-19 pandemic, now stands at 4.8%). The taskforce made several recommendations, including dropping the minimum standard in English and Maths required for those with an EHCP to Entry Level 3 rather than Level 1, looking at changes to the way these skills are assessed and how learners are recruited, promoting the use of Access to Work to fund support and creating case studies and campaigns to illustrate these alternatives.

Other initiatives have included traineeships (which the government recently announced plans to scrap) and pre-apprenticeship programmes, often unpaid and varying in terms of time commitment or guaranteed outcomes. While it is important to recognise that for many people with a learning disability, paid work is the goal, there is also value in creating a supportive environment to enable people to develop skills and – crucially – the self-confidence they need to take the next step. Being able to spend a meaningful period of time with an employer, embedded into their team, also helps employers develop good working practices and awareness of what working alongside a person with lived experience of a learning disability is like. Their concerns are often allayed and a good placement will lead to new skills, glowing references and best of all, a permanent role.

One key factor here is employer engagement. Many people are aware that people with a learning disability may need to develop their self-confidence, however studies have shown that employers are often also anxious around hiring disabled people- for example, Mencap found that 27% of their survey2 respondents said they would feel apprehensive about talking to someone with a learning disability for the first time. Employers can address these feelings by talking to organisations such as Unity Works and arranging awareness training for their team, coproduced and codelivered by people with lived experience. Here’s some words from Mike Donaghy, Job Broker at Unity Works, about the Disability Awareness Training Unity Works runs:

The Disability Awareness Training that Unity Works runs for employers provides an insight into the positives of hiring a person with a disability, plus the interpersonal strategies to put in place to make the workplace feel more comfortable. Furthermore, the training increases awareness for colleagues that may already have a disability but may not have come forward before because they didn’t know how to disclose. 

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


  2. Society is Missing Out: Research by Mencap highlights the misunderstanding of people with a learning disability and the negative impact this can have on society | Mencap