Yellow Submarine cafeThis week 4 young people with learning disabilities will begin new jobs as apprentices at the Oxford café of local charity Yellow Submarine.

The apprentices – Darren, Hannah, Anthony and Ian – will work part-time at the café for the next 18 months as they learn their roles. Throughout their apprenticeships they will be paid a weekly wage.

While nationally the numbers of new apprentices has risen significantly over the past decade, a government-commissioned report published last year found that the percentage of new apprentices with autism or severe learning disabilities is just 0.1%.

One of the main barriers for people with learning disabilities is that all people in the apprenticeship framework should reach Level 1 in Maths and English. Colleges have judged this is not achievable for most people with learning disabilities.

But after opening its social enterprise café – a means to train and employ people with learning disabilities – Yellow Submarine decided it was vital to overcome this to try to make apprenticeships accessible for everyone. 

Toby Staveley, the organisation’s CEO, said that the charity believes apprenticeships are the best stepping stone to long-term employment for people with learning disabilities. “Our apprentices will work with us for 20 hours per week for 78 weeks,” he said. “Unlike with internships or traineeships, they will have full employment rights and be paid a weekly salary… they will train, learn and earn. An 18-month apprenticeship will be totally transformative for these individuals in a way that doesn’t compare to a short-term placement or volunteering.”

College partnership

Yellow Submarine has been lobbying the Prime Minister and the government for a change in the apprenticeship framework requirements over the past year. At the same time the organisation has sought a college that shared its belief that with the right support and adjustments some people with learning disabilities could achieve the apprenticeship qualifications required.

To this end, the organisation has agreed to work with Abingdon & Witney College – already a significant provider of training for people with learning disabilities – to support these 4 individuals through their apprenticeship and showcase what can be achieved.

“We are delighted to have taken this exciting step and have full confidence that people with learning disabilities can perform the roles required of them within an apprenticeship,” Staveley added. “Hopefully this move will set an example which will be followed by other employers and colleges. We would like to see many more apprenticeship opportunities created for people with learning disabilities.”