What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is an opportunity to work and study at the same time. You spend most of your time doing on-the-job training and the rest working towards a nationally-recognised qualification.
The qualification could be the equivalent to GCSEs, up to a master’s degree, depending on the apprenticeship level you start at.
As an apprentice, you're paid a salary and get holiday allowance and sick pay, just like an employee.
Part-time options are available for most apprenticeships which can allow more flexibility for disabled candidates. If you take one part-time, the length of your apprenticeship will be extended to make sure you have enough time to complete the training.
Doing your research
The first step in deciding whether an apprenticeship is the right choice for you is to do your research. There are two main parts to consider:
- Your employer: Who you spend about 80% of your working week with.
- Your training provider: Which is usually a university or college, who you spend about 20% of your time with.
Some handy tips for researching an apprenticeship include:
- Check websites: Look on the employer and training provider’s websites to research more information about their facilities and accessibility. Most universities will have a page about their disability support (here’s a good example from the University of Greenwich) and an accessibility statement that may include details about their digital accessibility.
- Reach out directly: Get in touch with your employer and training provider as soon as possible to discuss any adjustments you may need. You may want to ask about things like location, physical accessibility, and how you access reading materials.
- Use open days: Most universities have open days, either virtually or in-person, which you can attend as a prospective apprentice. Open days are a chance for you to get a feel for where you’d be studying and speak to both current students, and staff such as the disability support team, Students' Union reps, or academic lecturers and tutors. Find out more about getting the most out of an open day.
- Check for disability confident badges: Some employers are part of the Disability Confident Scheme, which means they meet certain requirements to show they support employees with disabilities. There are different levels from 1 to 4, which show how much they are doing for disabled employees. You can search for disability confident employers and read more about the scheme here.
Mental health conditions can also be classed as disabilities if they have a long term impact on your day-to-day life.
If this is the case, you can still access disability support at work.
Some people choose not to share their disability because it doesn’t impact their day-to-day work, or they’re worried about being labelled.
However, there can be advantages to making people aware of your disability. It means you can access individual adjustments, funding, and initial support that can help with a smooth transition into the apprenticeship. It may also give you more protection under the Equality Act if any issues arise at work or with your training provider.
You may find this advice from Disability Rights UK about sharing your disability helpful.
If you do choose to share the information, you may need to answer some questions and potentially have an informal interview to discuss your needs – this isn’t anything to be worried about, it’s just a chance to discuss any adjustments you need put in place.
Reasonable adjustments allow disabled people to access the same opportunities and services as non-disabled people. Under the Equality Act (which covers England, Scotland and Wales), your employer and university or training provider must provide you with reasonable adjustments if you ask for them.
A reasonable adjustment could be anything from extra time on exams to a designated parking space, flexible working hours, or reading materials in a format suitable for you, such as Braille. However, adjustments are different for every person. This reasonable adjustments guide from Disability Rights UK lists some of the adjustments that could be put in place.
To provide you with these, your employer and training provider need to be aware of your impairment or condition. If you do choose to share the information, adjustments won't be put in place automatically – you must let the employer and university, or training provider, know what you need.
Networks and societies
Most universities have networks and societies you can join, both generally around interests and hobbies and for those specifically with disabilities. For example, some universities have well-being groups and disability support groups.
Some employers have diversity and inclusion groups you may be interested in joining too, as well as social clubs and sports teams.
It’s worth understanding how frequently these groups meet and how. For example, if your apprenticeship structure means you’re on campus for a certain day each week, will that group fit around you? Or can you join virtually?
Disability Rights UK also has a group for apprentices called the Disabled Support Network which brings together those currently taking an apprenticeship and those who have completed one.
As an apprentice, you won't be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) or student finance, but you are eligible for funding through the Access to Work scheme. This is a grant that can help you pay for work-related things that don’t fall under reasonable adjustments, like taxi fares if you can’t use public transport, for example. You need to apply for it directly unless your apprenticeship is with the Civil Service.
You may find this advice from Diversity and Ability about Access to Work helpful.
If you need adjustments for the study aspect of the apprenticeship, such as note-taking software or a recording device, you won’t need to apply for any funding to support these. However, you will need to let the training provider know what you need so they can put reasonable adjustments in place.
If you're a care leaver, you may also be entitled to an additional bursary. You can find details of the bursary and eligibility criteria here.
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Support for assessments and assignments
Throughout an apprenticeship, you’re assessed through several assignments or exams. If there’s a specific reason you can’t complete an assignment or make it to an exam, for example, fatigue or a mental health challenge, you can usually apply for extenuating circumstances. These are sometimes called mitigating circumstances.
If you need to access them, you will usually have to submit medical evidence. When doing your research, look at the extenuating circumstances policy for the university or training provider, which should be available on their website.
At the end of your apprenticeship, you’ll be assessed with an end-point assessment (EPA). An EPA is carried out by an independent body separate from your training provider and employer. If you pass the assessment, you’ll gain your qualification and officially complete the apprenticeship.
Each apprenticeship will have an independent body who carries out the assessment, and this is organised by the university or training provider. You may want to find out who they are so you can research them. You can still access reasonable adjustments for your assessment just like you can for the rest of the apprenticeship, you just need to apply for them at least three months in advance.
Fitness to practise regulations
On some apprenticeships, for example nursing and teaching, you may have to meet ‘fitness to practise’ rules set by professional bodies to make sure you are able to carry out the apprenticeship. The process involves a health questionnaire and occasionally an occupational health assessment.
No one should assume that having a disability makes you unfit to practise. Under the Equality Act 2010, both training providers and employers should consider all possible reasonable adjustments as part of the ‘fitness’ assessment and provide the support you need throughout the apprenticeship.
Raising a complaint
If you don’t feel your needs are being met, speak up. It’s always best to raise your concerns informally first, for example, speaking to your line manager in the workplace or your academic tutor from your university or training provider.
If you don’t feel your concerns have been taken seriously:
- In the workplace: Speak to a HR representative and use your employer’s formal complaint procedure if needed.
- With your university or training provider: Get in touch with student services, the Students’ Union or the disability support team. Each institution will have a formal complaint procedure which you can use as well.
- With an independent body: If you’re still not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint, you might want to contact an independent body for further advice. You may want to look at:
- Disability Rights UK
- Your local Citizens Advice Bureau
- Disability Law Service
- Equality Advisory & Support Service
- Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) (if the complaint is related to the study part of the apprenticeship)
You can also find more advice about raising a complaint and getting support at:
- National Union for Students
- Student Space
- Together All (your university or provider may need to be registered with the service)