This is a guest post from Paul Awcock, Head of Talent Sourcing at Lloyd’s and RIDI Executive Committee member

The Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (‘RIDI’) recently held a round table with companies and government representatives, to explore the opportunities that the new Apprenticeship Levy presents from a disability employment perspective. The Levy, which was introduced in April 2017, requires all employers operating in the UK, with a pay bill of over £3 million per annum, to invest in apprenticeships.

With a significant gap existing between the numbers of disabled versus non-disabled workers in employment standing at 49 per cent and with the government committed to halving it, there remains a long way to go. The Apprenticeship Levy represents an important step forward in terms of decreasing that gap. However, at present only nine per cent of UK apprentices have a disability, so a huge mountain for recruiters, employers and employees does still exist.

The roundtable participants debated the extent to which the barriers to engagement with the Apprenticeship Levy might be lifted given the government’s commitment to all workers irrespective of age, gender or disability, and the traditional focus on the 16-18 year age group, with employers who take on board apprentices from this demographic ensuring a 20 percent uplift in funding.

As a result of this discussion, several key recommendations were put forward to suggest how the Apprenticeship Levy might be leveraged for greater inclusion of disabled people in the future. Raising awareness of apprenticeships among disabled talent was the first recommendation, which suggested that leveraging and tapping into established employee networks, might be key. Employers should also reassess where they advertise apprenticeships, such as the government’s Universal Jobsmatch service.

Firms should also seek to celebrate their diversity policy as well as demystify the application process, encouraging the likelihood of up to a third more disabled people of applying for a role, and ensuring greater disclosure of any disabilities.

The roundtable also suggested that organisations should track the points at which disabled people fall out of employment, based on roles and transferable skills, to ensure hiring practices are inclusive. While the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network exists to promote employer diversity, it was agreed that more support for those firms thinking of taking on disabled apprentices would be invaluable. Offering a ‘one stop shop’ for guidance would be a logical step and professional bodies have provided such insight.

Crucially, attendees agreed that organisations must work together to push the envelope on the agenda. Developing a stronger partnership between the government’s Disability Confident scheme and the Institute of Apprenticeships, for example, would clearly be beneficial to both employers and potential recruits. Similarly, recruiters and training providers should collaborate to ensure that knowledge is disseminated throughout the recruitment supply chain. For many, accessing the best practice examples and being aware of apprenticeships existing for all age groups would help to spread the message this opportunity represents more widely.

While many employers are experienced in promoting inclusive graduate schemes, most will not necessarily have launched or promoted apprenticeships, which are now widely regarded as a viable alternative. Taking those lessons and using them to promote vocational programmes will go a long way to ensuring that it’s possible for recruiters, employers and training providers to pave a road for success that gives everyone the chance to succeed.

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