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Mencap highlights exclusion of learning disabled apprentices

19% of working age people have a disability, but just 9% of apprentices

Does this mean that disabled people are being excluded from apprenticeship opportunities? The Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) certainly thinks so.

The RIDI sponsored a round table discussion between employers and others, during which these figures were discussed. The figure of 19% of working age people is provided by the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF); however, some caution needs to be exercised before we declare that apprenticeships are not inclusive.

‘Working age’ no longer has a meaning as a measure, with some employees working into their 70s and beyond. As disability increases sharply with age, and both state and occupational pension ages have risen and will continue to rise, there are far more older disabled people in the workforce; however, apprenticeships necessarily involve young people who have lower levels of many common disabling conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease, that affect larger numbers of older people.

This is not to deny that there are disabled workers in this group, or that they need help; clearly, they do. One of the groups that faces most exclusion is young people with learning disabilities.

Mencap quotes the shockingly low number of adults with a learning difficulty who are in employment – 6%. There is no arguing with this figure.

It is shaming, and the government and Mencap are right to see the apprenticeship levy as a key opportunity to get more learning disabled young people into the workplace with appropriate support.

Mencap quotes some of the main barriers to employment for these young people as poor employer attitudes, complex application forms, rigid and inflexible interview processes, low levels of training on the job, and a scarcity of opportunities. In other words, society does its best to baffle, intimidate and exclude these young people at every turn. This must change.

One of the ideas raised by the RIDI group was to set up stronger links between the government’s Disability Confident scheme and the Institute of Apprenticeships. There was a feeling that employers did not know where to go to get support when taking on disabled apprentices.

For disabled individuals, a ‘one-stop shop’ providing help with identifying opportunities and applying for them was suggested. This is a great idea; however, as usual, the problem will be in making potential applicants aware that it exists. This is where organisations such as Mencap can play a crucial role.

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