National Apprenticeship Week – so, what about Unity Works?

Posted 08/02/2023

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 Unity Works accessible apprentice programme provides wrap around support for individuals looking to gain real work experience.
Twelve years ago, Unity Works identified that people with a learning disability were not attaining the literacy and/or numeracy standards required for mainstream apprenticeships. We decided to design a programme for people with a learning disability that offered a stepping stone to employment without the prerequisite of the entry requirements of literacy and numeracy.  Hosted in our social enterprise businesses across London, each year since we have taken on 6-8 people in catering and warehousing roles. Our programme follows a similar model to the mainstream apprenticeship model, however the programme is funded by  commercial income and allows us to deliver literacy and numeracy within a vocational setting and allows people to develop their work and literacy and numeracy skills whilst being paid national minimum wage.

Each year, when recruitment opens, we receive many more applicants than we have places, demonstrating the demand for truly accessible and inclusive apprentice-style opportunities. Despite the numbers of applicants, we aim to offer everyone the chance to attend an in-person information day, where potential applicants can see one of our social enterprises, meet some of our staff and existing apprentices, and get support to complete an application form. We then invite applicants to interview/practical assessment and give constructive written feedback to all attendees, so they understand what strengths and areas to work on we observed. Our successful applicants get valuable on the job training, developing skills to be an effective team member with us and in their future careers.

We offer wraparound support to our apprentices during their time with us any beyond- towards the end of the academic year, apprentices are introduced to staff from our Employment Team who work with them to prepare for the completion of their NVQ and get ready to apply for paid roles in mainstream employment. This includes workshops, 1:1s, interview preparation and support to attend interviews, advice and guidance to employers interested in offering them opportunities, and in-work support including job coaching and disability awareness training.

Our scheme has employed 77 apprentices, with 90% successfully completing a L2 NVQ and 70% going on to mainstream paid employment.

Naomi is former Unity Works apprentice. Here, she looks back at her time as an apprentice and the skills she developed as part of her time on the programme:

How did your time as an apprentice help you achieve your goals?

My time as an apprentice helped me achieve my goals by giving me my level 2 qualification and giving me industry level experience in a supportive environment. Without my time as an apprentice, I wouldn’t be working where I am today as general assistant at Barlett Mitchell.

What did you enjoy about your time as an apprentice?

Meeting new people, making new friends and being in the world of work.

What else would you like to do in your career?

I would like to stay in my current job and learn new skills such as a barista, I would like to achieve a level 3 in food safety and health and safety. I want to take on new responsibilities and I would like to become an assistant manager.

We believe the key to success is flexible, person centred support and equity of access to opportunities. We are keen to help develop the concept of accessible and inclusive apprenticeships to facilitate this choice for people with a learning disability.
For more information contact Suzanne Thomson, Learning & Skills Manager, at