At a time when the employability sector is focused on the new Work and Health programme, Dr Jo Ingold reflects on findings from research with employers in the UK and Denmark about their experiences of apprenticeships and of employing disabled people

Over 1,500 employers in the UK and Denmark were surveyed and follow-up interviews with almost 100 employers and provider organisations in both countries were carried out.


Most of the employers we talked to had used apprenticeships rather than other skills and employability programmes – usually to create new job roles leading to permanent employment and progression opportunities. Employers were very positive about apprenticeships but there are some points to note for future delivery. Employers found it difficult to get information about relevant apprenticeships in their area and they didn’t know about Local Enterprise Partnerships. Instead, they relied on cold calls from providers or on relevant sector skills bodies. Although some employers were frustrated about being sent unsuitable candidates who they felt were not work-ready or didn’t have the ‘right attitude’, on the whole they felt that apprentices gave them the right trained people for their business. Some were dissatisfied about the linkages between classroom teaching and their own workplace training. But this didn’t mean employers wanted to deliver apprenticeships themselves, except in the care sector.

Employing disabled people
UK employers said that they wanted to provide job opportunities for disabled people but in practice few had done so. And despite saying that they wanted the ‘right person for the job’ employers felt that some jobs couldn’t be done by disabled people, often assuming that disability meant physical impairments. It’s these kinds of barriers that need to be overcome if more disabled people are to be supported into work. Employers also had little or no knowledge of what Access to Work could provide.

There were though some great examples of employers who’d changed their recruitment processes to encourage applications from disabled people. They’d also made changes to job roles, including making working hours flexible. These employers acknowledged that this required ‘mindset’ change, supported by ‘honest conversations’ about the support individuals needed. For the employment and skills industry, this highlights the importance of dialogue and of forging good relationships between providers, individuals and employers.

In Denmark most of the employers we talked to had used the ‘Flexjobs’ programme which supports disabled people to work limited hours (with a wage top-up), increasing their hours over time if they are able. Local authorities (who are responsible for employment programmes) provide a fund similar to Access to Work, which provides physical adjustments and, if needed, an additional employee to support disabled employees in particular tasks. Employers felt that workplace mentoring was important in helping Flexjobs work effectively and also that local employability, education and health support needed to be integrated.

Our research highlights the popularity of apprenticeships amongst employers; can we translate what works (and what doesn’t) for apprenticeships to other service delivery? In terms of the Work and Health programme, employers need advice and guidance to foster a broader understanding of disability and about the benefits of a diverse workforce and how they can recruit and retain disabled people, as well as about Access to Work. Employer engagement is critical in this and can provide a foundation for support such as workplace mentoring. That health, employability and workplace support for disabled people needs to be better aligned may seem obvious but let’s not just dismiss this as being too hard. Devolution provides a great opportunity and each step takes us closer to being able to support more disabled people to move into, and remain in, work and to avoid wasting important talent.  

By Dr Jo Ingold, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy, Leeds University Business School

This blog was orginally published on the Institute of Employability Professionals website.