Disabled people must be better represented in Modern Apprenticeships

photo.JPGBernard Harkins notes a shocking failure to ensure fair access to Modern Apprenticeships, and sets out a plan to tackle it.


In September of this year Alex Rowley MSP, Scottish Labour Deputy Leader, set out Scottish Labour’s ambition that everyone who can work must be given the skills and support to work, to earn a wage and to have decent terms and conditions.

Modern Apprenticeships are a key part of tackling unemployment in Scotland. However one of the main issues that any incoming Labour administration at Holyrood will need to tackle is the lack of disabled people who are part of this scheme.

Apprenticeships had been in decline for years when in the late 1990s Modern Apprenticeships were first introduced. From a starting point of around 8,000 in 1998, by March 2013 there were more than 35,000 people going through the scheme. The aim of the Scottish Government is that 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships will start each year between 2011 and March 2016.

The union movement has been important in how Modern Apprenticeship schemes have been developed in workplaces across a number of different sectors. Unions have played a positive role in ensuring decent terms and conditions and in some cases have offered a mentoring role through union learning reps.

Though the scheme was intended to target 16-24 year olds, around 23% of Modern Apprentices are over 25, so the scheme can provide a valuable route for those looking to return to the workplace.

So, overall the Modern Apprenticeship scheme has been viewed as a positive initiative, welcomed both by employers and unions. But more needs to be done to ensure that disabled people are involved.

The figures for people declaring a disability and participating in the scheme are less than 0.5% of all placements. This compares to a figure of around 8% in the age group (16-24) that Modern Apprenticeships are targeted at.

In stark numerical terms, figures published in 2013 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland showed that only 74 disabled had taken up one of the 26,000 placements available.

By any measure that is a pretty shocking statistic.

If this issue is to be tackled meaningfully then Labour will need to form a coalition with groups representing the disabled, the STUC and employers. Such a coalition can build upon a lot of the good work that is already being done in this area and implement practical steps to address this issue.

Three initiatives that such a coalition may wish to consider are:

  • to ensure that disabled people are part of any working groups that make policy on disability issues;
  • to increase investment in the Access to Work Scheme – noting that figures produced by Inclusion Scotland show that this could be self-financing;
  • to target equality and diversity training towards recruitment and selection, using union learning reps to support this.

Last year welfare minister Lord Freud said that someone who has mental health problems or is disabled might not be worth paying the minimum wage. These were comments he rightly later apologised for.

A year from now I hope that in Scotland we will be making real progress towards the goal of disabled people making up at least 8% of Modern Apprenticeships. As a result more workplaces will be able to benefit from the positive contribution that disabled people can make.

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4 thoughts on “Disabled people must be better represented in Modern Apprenticeships

  1. Here’s a question (two actually) for you Bernard; how many apprentices have Scottish trade unions taken on in the last year? I am not talking about how many apprentices Scottish TUs helped to get apprenticeships in other firms, or how Scottish TUs helped ‘apprentices develop in the work place’ or about how Scottish TUs were part of ‘playing positive roles in ensuring terms and conditions’. I’m taking about how many apprentices were taken on this year within Scottish TUs directly. Im talking, numbers. And how many of those apprentices were disabled?
    The answers I am looking for is two numbers.
    Number of apprentices taken on by Scottish trade unions in 2015?
    Number of disabled apprentices taken on by Scottish TUs in 2015?

  2. So Labour is to form a coalition with the disables, unions and employers to sort out this serious( for the disabled) problem. Game over, or bullshit?
    It would have been helpful to have broken this down a bit, with stats as to the range of disability in the disabled group, the types of apprenticeship available, and the funding required to meet Bernard’s target. Are there, in fact, enough appropriate places in situ to facilitate 8% of apprenticeships among the various disabilities ?
    I see that the disabled are already educationally well behind the average. Is this a result of disability, or discrimination or bullying at school? Perhaps we should start at school level, and put pressure on Education Directors at local government level.
    I seem to think it used to be a requirement for a set % of disabled in any particular workforce. Has that ever been enforced?
    Should we not start with basic’s here?

  3. I thought so, the answer is zero apprentices taken on by Scottish trade unions and therefore zero disabled apprentices taken on. When you stand back and think about this it is a massive indictment on the Scottish trade union movement.
    Bernard Harkins is, and I got this from his website ” Equalities Officer of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Branch.” So Bernard why not do something about it yourself. Set an example through the PCS. Take on some disabled apprentices and train them up to help run the union. Then you will be in a position to advise others rather than just bemoaning the present state of affairs.

  4. Richard and Gavin, Thanks for your feedback. The idea behind this article was to highlight an issue that has been raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland and Inclusion Scotland and to offer some suggestions, which might not be perfect, as to how Labour could tackle this issue.

    Richard – Well done on finding figures for this as I’ve found these difficult to find.

    In terms of trade unions most of these are relatively small employers in Scotland and their main role is to try and improve workplace terms and conditions and as I’ve hopefully made clear in the above article work with the employer to help improve access to the workplace. Something that can be done working with the employer in partnership.

    PCS mainly organises in the Civil Service and has been involved in discussions over the years to try and improve things, but I’m sure more could be done.

    Gavin – Point taken on stats and I include a link to the Equality Commission Report below which is hopefully helpful. The report does touch on what you say regarding existing barriers, however the 8% target, which isn’t mine, based on the estimated percentage of disabled people in the age group which MAs are largely aimed at seems to be thought realistic.

    The report notes:- In 2011/12 it was reported that 7.7% of all apprenticeships in
    England were occupied by disabled people, but this total has been
    falling since 2008/9.

    I hope that it doesn’t appear that I am suggesting that any one party or particular group has the solution to this issue.

    The above piece was mainly written as a reaction to what I thought were some pretty awful figures and I would hope that we can all agree that this is an issue that should be tackled.

    Thanks again for the feedback and comments.



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