Not everybody sees themselves sitting in a lecture hall listening to a dusty professor or in a library leafing through equally musty tomes. Apprenticeships are a dynamic alternative to traditional ways of studying for qualifications, that enable people to taste the workplace, learn skills and get paid for doing so – and the schemes are an excellent way for disabled people to get a foothold in the competitive job market.

By Rebeca Shahoud

In March 2017, the Employment Related Services Association (ESRA) put pressure on the Government to use the Apprenticeship Levy to help halve the disability employment gap. From April 2017, all UK employers with annual salary bills of more than £3m must pay the Apprenticeship Levy, which goes towards skills, training and employment,

Last year, the Government announced plans to encourage a further 1.2 million disabled people back into the workplace. The levy has earmarked a further £150 per month, per student, for companies who support apprentices who have learning or other disabilities.

Facing challenges

It’s an inescapable fact that disabled people face additional challenges in the workplace but there are schemes available that can provide the support and rewarding environment so essential to success.

Chloe O’Toole has a severe hearing impairment and uses lipreading to understand what people are saying. She had previously been employed in retail and customer service for a bank, where she struggled after being required to work on phones, which were not adapted for people with hearing difficulties.

After visiting the GoThinkBig. website, a digital hub from O2 that helps people find work opportunities, Chloe successfully applied for a position as an agency sales apprentice for Channel 4 in Manchester. The apprenticeship has enabled Chloe to earn money and explore her talents in design, while completing a Level 3 Diploma in Digital Marketing.

Chloe says that she is “So proud” to be working for Channel 4 and encourages others to do the same. She says she feels like a “New person” and hopes to stay with Channel 4 once the apprenticeship has ended


High street bank, Barclays, also welcomes applications from disabled people on its apprenticeship scheme, where employees work towards a Level 2 Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) in Providing Financial Services, equivalent to five GCSEs.

Jane Forster was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a condition that affects her vision. Her apprenticeship as a cashier at Barclays has helped her to overcome barriers to working independently, and she feels supported by her colleagues. Barclays provides her with equipment to enable her to work effectively: ZoomText software, an electronic magnifier and an audio PIN device to identify customers. Jane also says she would encourage others to do the same and not feel that their disability is going to get in the way of doing a good job.

Katie Kendrick now has a permanent position at Barclays in Kirkby, Nottinghamshire, after completing a 12-month apprenticeship which included an NVQ Level 2 in Business Administration. Katie has Type 1 diabetes and had previously struggled to find employment when she mentioned her condition, saying: “I enjoy the work environment and the setup of apprenticeships. Learning on the job is better for me than sitting in a classroom. Plus I can earn while I’m doing it.”

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) also works closely with partners to ensure that apprenticeships can be accessed by all, including disabled people.

Jack Benson signed up for a Modern Apprenticeship with SDS and found work at house builders, Mactaggart & Mickel Homes, in Dalkeith, with whom he is hoping to develop a long career in the construction industry.

Adaptation and support Jack is Deaf and was surprised that some of his colleagues had learnt British Sign Language in order to use it to communicate with him. His other colleagues are equally supportive and often write things down or gesture. His pager alerts him to heavy machinery or moving vehicles, and also displays urgent messages from his site manager. Other adaptions include a fi re alarm which strobes as well as rings, and 360-degree cameras on the forklifts used on the site. Jack said: “I want to carry on learning, complete my apprenticeship and continue working with the company”.

Briony Shrieve also utilised SDS’s services to embark on an apprenticeship at Woodlands Nursery in Banchory. Briony has severe dyslexia and uses pink paper to help her read printed words. She is studying for a Level 3 Social Services Children and Young People Modern Apprenticeship. As well as the coloured paper, Briony uses readers, scribes and easy-read formats to help with the theory side of the course.

The nursery’s managing director, Anna Adam, comments that Briony excels at the practical aspects of the role, saying: “I think learning on the job works best of all for those people who are practical learners who are gaining new skills as they go and learning from their experienced colleagues who share their knowledge” adding: “Apprenticeships also allow you to train people in the way that works best for you.”


Get In Go Far

Skills Development Scotland www. skillsdevelopmentscotland.

There are schemes available that can provide the support and rewarding environment so essential to success.