The Department of Education needs to rethink its current regulations around apprenticeships, says Mencap, 

National Apprenticeship Week starts today and Mencap says in its Accessible Apprenticeships Report that tens of thousands of people with a learning disability or learning difficulty should be able to access more apprenticeships.

The UK’s main learning disability charity found that current regulation presents unnecessary barriers for people with a learning disability or learning difficulty to enter and complete apprenticeships.

In 2019/20, only 12 percent of all apprentices identified as having a learning disability, learning difficulty or a health problem. 

Mark Capper is Mencap’s Head of Development in the Lifestyles & Work team: “We have the opportunity to make a very subtle change to an already existing policy that will allow for tens of thousands of people to access apprenticeships. At a time when the UK is suffering significant labour shortages, we urge the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills to think differently about the requirements needed for people with a learning disability.

 

Criteria too restrictive

Among apprentices with a learning disability or learning difficulty (LDD), the most common primary diagnoses are dyslexia or a medical condition such as epilepsy, asthma or diabetes. 

Mencap says that apprenticeships are life-changing opportunities, enabling people to learn, train, and earn a recognised qualification, while gaining practical work experience. For many people with a learning disability or learning difficulty, this combination of hands-on experience, learning, and pastoral support is the ideal training method. However, few have the opportunity to enter an apprenticeship with many falling at the first hurdle.

Mencap has found that the majority of apprenticeship employers and training providers believe that the criteria for people with a learning disability or learning difficulty to qualify for flexibilities set out in the ‘Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for England’ are too restrictive. 

It has set out a series of recommendations in their report to expand the adjusted minimums to people with a learning disability or learning difficulty.

Apprenticeships are the answer to the skills shortage

The vast majority (96 percent of respondents) agree that people with a learning disability or learning difficulty should qualify for adjusted minimum standards based on a cognitive assessment rather than evidence of an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, CEO City & Guilds, which offers vocational qualifications, says apprenticeships are becoming more important at a time when skills are short. She said:“In the face of low unemployment and immigration from the EU, and high levels of economic activity, apprenticeships will be a crucial way for essential industries to train and recruit the homegrown talent they need to fill these skills shortages. 

“As the Government looks to ‘level up’ the country, the value of apprenticeships mustn’t be overlooked. We need adequate investment for improving apprenticeships and their take up, to help tackle the mismatch between the supply and demand of talent.”

 

Mencap calls for removal of English and Maths requirement

Mencap also suggests that where there is no industry-standard requirement for English and Maths qualifications that this is removed for people with a learning disability or learning difficulty. Or  re-examined, for example having the ability to talk to customers or identify correct weights and measurements.

71 percent of respondents to the survey described current English and Maths requirements as an ‘unnecessary barrier’ and 92 percent of employers would be willing to hire an apprentice with those practical adjusted minimums.

With many sectors currently struggling to recruit, the easing of these restrictions will allow businesses to enhance what they can offer by including people with different experiences and skills. If not, there is a worry that the current economic climate will worsen the barriers and widen inequalities that people with a learning disability already face. 

Mr Capper said: “People with a learning disability can work and want to work and with the right support they can also make fantastic employees. Many have proved their worth during the pandemic – with some working as keyworkers. Now is the time tofinallyremove barriers and support people with a learning disability through inclusive employment programmesso they canapply their dedication andskills.”

He added that the government should consider implementing the recommendations laid out in Mencap’s report, which has been agreed by training providers and employers. Mr Capper says doing this will enable more people with LDD easier access to completing apprenticeships and lead to a more diverse workforce and society.