Apprenticeships and traineeships are useful pathways for people with a disability to obtain a qualification and gain employment. Based on a three-year program of research, this report explores the barriers and facilitators of course completion reported by students with a disability who have completed an apprenticeship or traineeship. Formal and informal support was the greatest facilitator to completion, and lack of resources the major barrier. This included poor training wages, equipment costs and a lack of time, often due to family commitments.
About the research
Recent policies to address equity issues have encouraged people with disabilities to participate in vocational education and training (VET). While participation is worthwhile, it is completion that typically brings the greatest benefits.
This is the first report from a program of research investigating the financial and social outcomes for people with disabilities who have completed an apprenticeship or traineeship. This research is based on a three-year longitudinal survey of graduates with disabilities. In this first report, the emphasis is on the students' perspectives on the barriers to and facilitators of course completion. Not surprisingly, graduates with a disability were more likely to report barriers to completion of their apprenticeship or traineeship compared with those without.
- The most commonly reported barriers, across both the graduates with disabilities and those without, were related to a lack of resources. Common challenges cited were poor training wages; the cost of equipment or tools required for training; and lack of time, often due to family commitments. For some in the disability group, these barriers were compounded by their health conditions.
- Support was the most important factor facilitating course completion among the research participants with disabilities. This support was often provided by individuals from disability employment service providers, group training organisations, TAFE (technical and further education) institutes, and the employer. Informal support — that from friends, family and coworkers — was also important, particularly when formal supports were inadequate.
Only a small proportion of the research participants report that they have been supported jointly by both a disability employment service provider and a training organisation. Given the previous research showing the benefits of joint support, the authors advocate the formation of such partnerships.
Managing Director, NCVER
People with disabilities can experience social and economic exclusion (Australian Government 2009; Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs 2011). Moreover there is low participation in the labour market by people with disabilities, despite recognition of the role of employment in reducing social exclusion (ABS 2009, 2010b, 2011; Australian Government 2009; OECD 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012). Apprenticeships and traineeships have been shown to be beneficial pathways for people with disabilities, particularly for people with intellectual and learning disabilities (Lewis, Thoresen & Cocks 2011a, 2011b), for obtaining qualifications and employment as they combine training and education with practical work. Although the outcomes among apprenticeship and traineeship graduates with disabilities are similar to graduates without disabilities (Ball & John 2005), people with disabilities are less likely to undertake and complete apprenticeships and traineeships than their peers without disabilities (ANTA 2000; Bagshaw & Fowler; Cavallaro et al 2005; Griffin & Beddie 2011; NCVER 2011c; National VET Equity Advisory Council 2011). This research report identifies the barriers to and facilitators of course completion, as reported by apprenticeship and traineeship graduates.
The report is drawn from the first-year survey of a three-year longitudinal study into the social and economic outcomes of apprenticeship and traineeship graduates with disabilities. A total of 404 graduates with disabilities completed the survey. Face-to-face interviews were also carried out with 30 volunteers from the survey participants. A smaller group of 85 apprenticeship and traineeship graduates without disabilities was also surveyed as a comparison group. Participants were recruited in two stages. Apprentices and trainees with disabilities who graduated in 2009—11 were recruited during the second half of 2011 through disability employment services (DES), group training organisations (GTOs), registered training organisations (RTOs) such as TAFE institutes, and state training authorities. Graduates without disabilities were recruited for the comparison group in early 2012 through group training organisations. The two-staged participant recruitment approach enabled the researchers to stratify potential participants in the comparison group according to gender, age, and apprenticeship or traineeship completion to the proportions among participants in the disability group. Satisfactory matches across these variables were reached between the two groups.
The research participants were not entirely representative of the broader population of all apprenticeship and traineeship graduates, which limits how broadly the findings of this research can be generalised. There is a significant underrepresentation of participants from Victoria in the cohort of research participants due to a bias in the recruitment strategy. The proportion of graduates with disabilities declaring an intellectual or learning disability among research participants is also higher than the proportion reported for all vocational education and training (VET) graduates. Despite the survey's limitations, this is one of the largest cohort studies of its kind and provides valuable insight into the barriers to and facilitators of course completions as reported by participants.
The survey participants were asked to specify three barriers to and three facilitators of course completion, and responses were coded thematically across the disability and comparison groups. Five major themes were identified across the reported barriers and facilitators: resources; disability, health, and injury; employment factors; training and educational factors; and motivations, experiences and networks. Although the proportion of participants specifying no barriers for course completion was low, the proportion of graduates without disabilities reporting no barriers was double that of graduates with disabilities; 17.1% compared with 8.9% respectively.
The lack of resources was the most commonly cited barrier by participants in the comparison group, reported by almost two-thirds of graduates without disabilities compared with just under half of participants in the comparison group. Low training wages was specified as a major challenge.
Barriers related to disability, health and injury were mainly reported by participants in the disability group, although a small proportion of participants in the comparison group also had challenges with course completion due to injury. Common challenges among the graduates with disabilities included poor literacy and numeracy; barriers due to the built environment; lack of assistive technology; pain, discomfort, and health problems; and sensory and communication barriers. The facilitators mitigating the impact of disability were specific to employment as well as training and educational factors and are therefore encompassed by those themes.
A larger proportion of participants in the disability group (31.7%) reported barriers in the 'employment factors' theme than did participants in the comparison group (17.1%). Here graduates with disabilities cited work demands most frequently as a barrier, while graduates without disabilities specified the loss of employment opportunities as the most common barrier. In addition, poor experiences at work, often characterised as harassment or bullying, were reported as a barrier. In total, 10.4% of all apprenticeship and traineeship graduates with disabilities reported experiences which could be interpreted as harassment or bullying compared with 5.9% of graduates without disabilities. About one-third of first year apprentices in two Victorian studies reported being bullied, which can negatively affect the attrition of apprentices (du Plessis & Corney 2011). While the proportion of participants in the current study reporting harassment and bullying while undertaking their training was significantly lower than that reported in the Victorian studies, it should be noted that participants were not specifically asked whether they had experienced harassment or bullying during their training.
Research participants also identified significant facilitators linked to employment factors. More than half of the graduates with disabilities and more than two-thirds of participants without disabilities identified facilitators in the 'employment factors' theme. These included supportive managers and colleagues, the provision of assistive technology and other supports for graduates with disabilities, and motivating and rewarding outcomes from achievement. There were additional supports for the apprenticeship and traineeship graduates with disabilities across employment factors, specifically disability employment services support, which one-third of participants in the disability group reported receiving. Although previous research had identified the positive role that collaborative support from both disability employment services and group training organisations played in successful course completions for apprentices and trainees with disabilities (Lewis, Thoresen & Cocks 2011a), only a very small proportion of participants (5.2%) reported being supported by both disability employment services and a group training organisation.
Just under one-third of participants in both the disability and comparison groups reported barriers associated with training and education factors. These included limited access to lecturers and tutors, course content factors and issues associated with numeracy and literacy. The high proportion of research participants who specified an intellectual or learning disability meant a high likelihood of numeracy and literacy barriers. The availability of tutoring support was identified as a major facilitator of course completion by participants in the disability group. Additional challenges included discrepancies between content and the approaches emphasised in the workplace and those emphasised in the training and educational environment. The proportion of participants reporting facilitators related to training and educational factors was higher among participants in the disability group (50.8% compared with 41.8% respectively), as was the proportion of participants specifying receiving support from TAFE (41.5% compared with 31.0%).
Individuals, in both formal (employers, support workers from agencies such as disability employment services, group training organisations and registered training organisations) and informal contexts (family members, friends and colleagues) played significant facilitating roles in the graduation of apprentices and trainees with disabilities. Over 70% of graduates with disabilities identified positive motivations, experiences and networks as facilitating their course completions compared with just below 60% for the comparison group.
The barriers and facilitators reported by research participants suggested that there are a number of areas that can be addressed. Providing additional support for employers may enhance outcomes for apprentices and trainees with disabilities. Disability employment services provide on-the-job support for workers with disabilities, including apprentices and trainees, and can also assist employers to identify the forms of supports and adjustments that will benefit apprentices and trainees with disabilities. This is particularly important for apprentices and trainees with complex disabilities (such as multiple disabilities).
The infrequency of support for graduates with disabilities from both disability employment services and a group training organisation suggested that increased collaboration within the sector may be warranted. The establishment of formal partnerships between disability employment services and training organisations has the potential to improve outcomes for apprentices and trainees with disabilities, as these organisations have complementary expertise. The National VET Equity Advisory Council (2011) has proposed that registered training organisations should provide 'holistic case management' to support people from equity groups to undertake and complete VET. There are clear benefits to be realised from increasing the networks of support for apprentices and trainees with disabilities across stakeholder groups and for these efforts to be well coordinated.
The role of individuals in formal or informal support for participants in both the disability and comparison groups in facilitating course completions suggested that social capital or personal networks played a major facilitating role. It was clear that the support of family, friends and co-workers was critical for graduation for a large proportion of the apprentices and trainees with disabilities participating in this study. Further investigation into the social and economic outcomes, as well as their interrelationship, will take place over the next waves of the study.