The learning disability charity Mencap is calling for the Department of Education to rethink their current regulations around apprenticeships to allow thousands of people with learning disabilities and difficulties (LDD) to access more apprenticeships.

The Accessible Apprenticeships Report, which is published as part of National Apprenticeship Week, suggests that Ministers makes a “subtle change” to an existing policy which would allow for greater flexibility to entry requirements.

What barriers do people with learning disabilities face when it comes to accessing apprenticeships?

As part of their research, Mencap surveyed more than 140 apprenticeship employers and training providers to understand the views of the sector.

They found that nearly all respondents (96%) agreed that the current regulations present unnecessary barriers for people with a LDD to enter and complete apprenticeships.

The current policy means that unless the person has an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) or a legacy statement, they are barred from accessing the reasonable adjustments they need to start and complete an apprenticeship.

The employers and training providers say that instead, people with a LDD should qualify for adjusted minimum standards based on a cognitive assessment rather than a EHCP.

The report states that the current regulations are therefore too restrictive, and it recommends that the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister expands the entry criteria to include cognitive assessments.

Mencap also suggest that where there is no industry-standard requirement for English and Maths qualifications, that the practical English and Maths required for the job for people with a LDD are re-examined. For example, candidates should instead be assessed on their ability to talk to customers or identify correct weights and measurements.

Respondents agreed with this in general, with 71% saying that the English and Maths requirements are an “unnecessary barrier”, and 92% saying they would hire an apprentice with those practical adjusted minimums.

Allowing businesses to “enhance what they can offer” by including people with “different experiences and skills”

Mencap emphasises the importance of apprenticeships for people with a LDD, describing them as “life-changing opportunities” that enable people to “learn, train, and earn a recognised qualification, while gaining practical work experience.”

They note that with many sectors currently struggling to recruit, this increased flexibility could allow businesses to “enhance what they can offer” by including people with “different experiences and skills.”

If they don’t, there is a worry that the current economic climate will worsen the barriers and widen inequalities that people with a learning disability already face.

Mark Capper, Head of Development in the Lifestyles & Work team at Mencap 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 to finally remove barriers and support people with a learning disability through inclusive employment programmes so they can apply their dedication and skills.

“Implementing the recommendations laid out in Mencap’s Accessible Apprenticeships Report, which employers and training providers have agreed with, will enable more people with a learning disability and/or learning difficulty to access and successfully complete apprenticeships. Without action we will see a widening in the gap of opportunities and, without a truly diverse workforce, how can we expect a more diverse society?”