Address neurodiversity and you tackle the challenge of apprentice retention
23 Dec 2021
The number of people taking up apprenticeships is falling substantially. In 2022 we must ensure there is adequate support to avoid and reduce levels of drop-out, especially among the neurodiverse, urges Chris Quickfall of Cognassist
With ongoing reports of small to mid-sized firms struggling to recruit and retain apprentices amid continuing skills shortages, it is vital that neurodiverse candidates are not overlooked. There are persistently high dropout rates among apprentices, and therefore it is hard to ignore the fact that for one reason or another, apprentices are not being adequately supported in their roles.
Neurodiversity is by no means a new term, but it isn’t widely understood. It acknowledges the natural variation in human cognition, and how different individuals think and learn differently. Common types of neurodiversity include Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, and Dyspraxia – to name just a few. At Cognassist, we strongly believe that with the appropriate support, those who may typically struggle in learning environments can absolutely go on to achieve alongside their peers.
It is estimated that up to one in three learners have hidden learning needs, and therefore apprenticeship providers must be aware of signs to look out for and steps that can be taken to support the apprentice and avoid them dropping out early.
Learners with identified learning difficulties and disabilities are more likely to drop out of their apprenticeship. Neurodiverse individuals often have a range of untapped strengths that can be of genuine benefit
According to the National Achievement Rates Tables (NARTs), learners with identified learning difficulties and disabilities are more likely to drop out of their apprenticeship. Neurodiverse individuals often have a range of untapped strengths that can be of genuine benefit to apprenticeship providers, so we need to be serious about attracting and retaining neurodiverse individuals to unlock this talent. This is especially true in process industries and manufacturing - sectors with larger numbers of apprentices - and it is crucial that individuals’ needs are considered so that both the apprentice and the provider can reap the maximum benefits.
Attracting and encouraging neurodiverse individuals begins during the recruitment stage. It is vital that the application process is made as accessible as possible, therefore eliminating barriers to application for neurodiverse individuals.
The apprenticeship description should be clear and concise while avoiding unnecessary jargon, and additionally, it is beneficial to split the requirements of the apprenticeship into necessary and desired attributes – this helps to avoid individuals excluding themselves based on minor – and sometimes idealistic – candidate characteristics. A further step that can be taken to encourage neurodiverse applications is to put in place a company neurodiversity policy, to show that neurodiversity is valued and supported.
Once the apprentice has started there must be consideration given to how they think, work, and learn, as it may be slightly different to existing employees. There are inexpensive and straightforward accommodations that can be made here.
For example, if an individual has ADHD, it can be beneficial to carry out goal setting activities together, with a focus on what is achievable and realistic. In manufacturing, producing a checklist for processes is a useful way for the individual to visualise the steps towards their goal, ensuring they remain focused and can see the desired result.
We need to be serious about attracting and retaining neurodiverse individuals to unlock this talent. This is especially true in process industries and manufacturing
It is also important to cultivate a culture of understanding from the offset. This will provide comfort to individuals, empowering them to disclose any cognitive needs they may have. Additionally, it will subsequently allow the provider to openly discuss any reasonable adjustments they feel would enable them to reach their full potential. Additionally, it is incredibly important to train existing staff in ways in which they too can help. This further helps to create an inclusive and open environment.
There is little doubt that apprentices already play a huge part in the industry, and amid fears over skills and labour shortages, there needs to be more emphasis on not just attracting neurodiverse talent, but also ensuring retention. This can only be done through accurate identification and appropriate support, allowing the individual to reach their full potential.
Photo: After a slow start, manufacturing and engineering are making efforts to improve diverse recruitment, including female and ethnic minority candidates. But are we doing enough to identify and retain the neurodiverse too?