More needs to be done to attract and recruit more disabled apprentices, a new report has argued.
The Open University's Access to Apprenticeships paper states that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of employers said that they faced challenges in financing the additional support required to train and develop individuals with a disability.
In total, 700 small and large employers were surveyed across England for the research. More than a quarter of decision-makers (29 per cent ) said they did not have adequate training to enable them to better support employees with declared disabilities.
Almost half of organisations (47 per cent) surveyed believed that their companies could do more with internal support to help apprentices with declared disabilities.
Two in three employers (68 per cent) said that hiring apprentices or graduates with a disability was an important priority for them, and more then a third (38 per cent) said that they had started to proactively recruit individuals with a disability over the past three years.
The findings come as data from the Department for Education reveals that just 12.3 per cent of apprentices have learning difficulties or a disability - well below the figure for the general population who are declared as having a disability (19.5 per cent).
Laura Burley, apprenticeships ambassador at the Open University, said: "A lack of understanding of the resources available creates a disconnect and as a result, there is a danger it reduces the opportunities that are opened up to candidates with declared disabilities.
“We know that employers have a strong appetite to grow the number of apprentices they hire in the future and also want to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce and hire more apprentices with disabilities.
"Today we are calling on the UK government to help make clear the support that’s available for employers, and examine how the apprenticeship levy in England could be used to streamline the process and widen access to the workplace for apprentices with declared disabilities."
The report makes four recommendations which “would help to ensure that government, training providers and employers can work better together to support, recruit and retain more apprentices with disabilities”.
Enhance recruitment support
The report says that “consideration should be given to how employers can utilise the Apprenticeship Service to show that they are disability-friendly, promote roles that are suitable for individuals with different types of disability and identify disability-friendly training providers and specialist/third sector organisations that they can work with to identify and on-board candidates”.
Provide more transparent information, advice and guidance
Both training providers and the government need to give better and clear information, advice and guidance to employers hiring apprenticeships, says the report - in particular to small- and medium-sized enterprises.
Simplify funding and clarify the eligibility and assessment processes
“To ensure every individual receives the support they deserve, the Department for Education should consider how the current funding model for individual learners, providers and employers seeking additional learning support can be radically simplified,” the report says.
Improve education and training for employers
Everyone working with apprentices with disabilities should be fully trained and able to support individual needs to help them to succeed. The report suggests that a common programme of education similar to the Mental Health First Aid programme should be considered.
'Quality and accessibility'
Fiona Aldridge, director of research and development at the Learning and Work Institute, said that the quality and accessibility of apprentices also needed focus.
"Our research has shown that ensuring apprenticeships are open to people with disabilities has huge benefits not just for potential apprentices, but for employers and for the economy too," she said.
“This Open University research provides some fascinating data and insightful recommendations for government and for employers, which could help close the participation gap, and make apprenticeships truly accessible for all.”
Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said that training providers can and do play a key role in the recruitment of apprentices with a disability.
"The big concern is a third of interviewed providers not claiming additional learning support for these apprentices because of an apparent lack of knowledge about the stipulated funding criteria and so AELP will discuss with the ESFA how we can rectify this," he said.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
“We are on track to meet our target to increase the proportion of people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities starting an apprenticeship by 20 per cent.
“Through our work with the disability sector we have helped to make apprentices more accessible and we have worked with employers to champion the benefits to business of recruiting a diverse workforce.”