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Apprentices and dyslexia

Why dyslexia support is key for apprenticeships to workPyramids

For many young people an apprenticeship is an increasingly popular vocational alternative to further and higher education. It provides practical  ‘on-the-job’ experience and a wage, with periods of work-related training. With other routes to work becoming more limited, the apprentice route is likely to be a more attractive way for young dyslexic people who wish to stay out of academia to gain experience and qualifications.

The coalition government in the UK has created 257,000 new apprentices, according to figures released in June. The British Dyslexia Association estimate that 10% of the adult population is dyslexic, so because it is likely that more than the average number of apprentices will be dyslexic there are likely to be in excess of 25,700 dyslexic apprentices working in the UK now. This is the same number of workers it took to build the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

Given how important it is to encourage young people into work and provide as many opportunities as possible, just how dyslexia-friendly are apprenticeships? The Equality Act (2010) requires those who provide a service to anticipate the needs of those who process information differently. The British Dyslexia Association report in their magazine Dyslexia Contact (May 2013) that they have been ‘alerted to the many difficulties dyslexic apprentices face when undertaking Functional Skills Testing’, and that ‘these tests present a significant barrier to the career progression of apprentices’.

This means that the UK economy is not taking full advantage of the contribution of the enormous pool of talent and creativity. It needs to be harnessed, but the task of supporting dyslexic individuals on apprenticeships is not straightforward due to two main barriers:

Barrier 1: Knowing who is dyslexic.

Employers and those training in the workplace are unlikely to have a clear idea of who is dyslexic. This is because some individuals will be unaware of their dyslexia, as schools in the UK are not very efficient at picking it up. Other members of staff will be aware of their dyslexia, but not wish to disclose it, perhaps uncertain of any gains to be had.

Barrier 2. Knowing how to respond.

It is clear that there is a lack of awareness training among employment staff on the characteristics of dyslexia and reasonable adjustments which may be made for it. Dyslexia Contact reported this leading to complaints about ‘inappropriate access arrangements’ and ‘out of context questions’ which put dyslexic individuals at a disadvantage when they tried to demonstrate their competence.

So with no clear idea how many workers are dyslexic and who they are, and no informed plan of how to respond, the current arrangements for apprenticeships place barriers in front of dyslexic young people. These could affect their opportunity to shine and be seen to make progress in the same ways that non-dyslexics are able to demonstrate.

There is a way forward: remove the two barriers.

  1. Make it easier for those who do not know they are dyslexic to find out if they are;
  2. Make it easier to disclose dyslexia to others at work;
  3. Upgrade the skills of staff who support apprentices through awareness training, which covers dyslexia, its many accompanying differences, and how to make reasonable adjustments for them.

These steps will bring enormous national economic benefits in terms of better communications and productivity, resulting from an increase in personal confidence and self-esteem among this significant proportion of talented apprentices.

Then we’ll see how long it takes to build a pyramid...       

Jan Halfpenny writes, conducts research and trains organisations and individuals on dyslexia and business.  

Recent research on dyslexic entrepreneurs: In Their Element: The Case for Investing in Dyslexic Entrepreneurs


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...is there such a thing as an employers dyslexia awareness toolkit? Simple, practical guidance for employers, particularly the smaller ones could make a difference



One of the reasons that dyslexia is left is the cost of an Educational Psychologist report. At £300 this is very off-putting and in some cases for mild dyslexia it is not necessary. We use some fairly straight forward tests which are small in cost to highlight dyslexia and the areas of weakness. Could be part of a 'toolkit' - is there a big demand?

Art Alvarez says:


Tam, I like your article. I am dyslexic, at the time that I was in high school no one new about this issue. What was found is that I had a high level of competence and understanding but it took me forever to read something. Math was very easy but I didn't like to write. I went to college for a year but wasn't ready. I wound taking an apprenticeship and that opened many doors for me. The combination of hands on work combined with coached classroom learning helped me grow. I owe my career to that apprenticeship, it showed me that I could learn and do other things in my life. I now have a Master Degree that was paid for by one of the companies taht I worked for all because someone took a chance on me and gave me an apprenticeship.



This is a fascinating article - I completely agree that for lots of young people an apprenticeship is a great idea as it can save the pressure of entering higher education! Really enjoyed reading this :-)

tracy Montgomery says:


My son is constantly being called retarded for making spelling errors on job sheets. Bullying and harassment every day. When he explains he has dyslexia he was told "dont be proud of it". Read my blog about his hardship. Dyslexicsurvivor.blogspot. com continue to raise awareness

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