Enable the disabled, it will do wonders for your business

Sarah Newton
Source: Getty

How accessible is the banking sector for people starting out?

That’s the question that led to my visit to Barclays last week to meet some of their budding apprentices – and I was very impressed with what I saw.

Some apprentices are on the “Able to Enable” programme, which supports people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

I asked them about their experiences so far, and heard about how their apprenticeship has opened up a door to working in the banking sector.

Their stories reaffirmed to me that apprenticeship programmes are a valuable route into work, and genuinely help people get into the jobs they want – even if they don’t have the right experience yet.

There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are reserved for young people starting out in the working world. But in reality, they are a fantastic opportunity for everyone.

It’s been really encouraging to hear about employers who are using apprenticeship programmes to retain and retrain older workers, as well as those using them as way to open up their jobs to disabled people.

But this is also about the huge benefits of having a diverse workforce – in keeping businesses innovative and strengthening their reputation.

That’s why we’ve introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, which will mean the annual budget for apprenticeships will be £2.45bn by 2019-20 – double what it was in 2010-11.

This levy will increase the quality and availability of opportunities.

We want apprenticeships to carry the weight of other qualifications, which means people need to know they are backed by good training and oversight. And we want to increase the number of disabled people who take up apprenticeships.

We have set a target for a 20 per cent increase in the proportion of people with learning difficulties and disabilities starting an apprenticeship by 2020.

Barclays has almost 3,500 apprentices, and they have already more than doubled the proportion of disabled people on their programme within the space of a year.

The bank shows that work is being done to open up apprenticeships. But across the economy – the banking sector included – there is still more we need to do.

Almost a fifth of the working-age population is disabled. This represents a substantial portion of our workforce, and is a huge pool of talent that we need to be making the most of.

That’s where the Disability Confident scheme comes in, which encourages more companies to see the benefits of employing disabled people, and to support them to improve access and inclusion.

Over 5,000 companies have signed up so far. Being part of this scheme means businesses that might be worried about “doing the wrong thing” can get support to recruit and retain disabled staff.

To get recognition as a Disability Confident employer, one of the things we look at is how you find the right people – one of them being whether you provide apprenticeships.

So, if your company already provides an apprenticeship programme, you should be asking how many disabled people are on it.

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