Two young people talk outside an office.

Modern Apprenticeships - a case study

RNIB Employment Advisor Heather Barbara has spoken to one young man with sight loss who proves that apprenticeships are a great way to gain skills, get a nationally recognised qualification and earn money at the same time. Thomas has always been keen to get on in life and was not going to let sight loss get in his way.

Thomas completed a Modern Apprenticeship in Furniture Manufacture and Assembly in 2019. After three years, he completed his apprenticeship and was quickly offered a permanent role with a successful social enterprise making office furniture, kitchens and timber kits for new build houses.

Thomas is farsighted and has an eye condition called Brown's Syndrome. This rare condition limits eye movements and can cause amblyopia, or "lazy eye" and problems with depth perception. 

Working safely

During his apprenticeship Thomas learned how to use and maintain tools and equipment, how to make components of furniture to high specifications, how to select and apply the right veneers and how to assemble furniture using the correct sequences. Thomas used a range of cutting and finishing tools and techniques, organising his workspace safely and taking great pride in his work. If you haven’t worked with blind or partially sighted people before, it can be very easy to over-estimate risks or make assumptions about what blind people can or can't do. Find out more about good practice to risk assess your workplace.

Thomas: Lots of employers think you can't do a good job if you can't see very well but I showed that you can. I just needed a little bit of help and now I do the same job as the rest of my team.

Technology can help

Thomas was able to access his coursework on his smartphone and used an accessible PC in the Learning Centre at work to complete written assignments. He completed modules online and his apprenticeship workbook and says he really valued the support of his supervisor and assessor. There is an amazing range of assistive technologies available which can help someone who is losing their sight to retain their job, or open up the world of work to blind and partially sighted people. Find out more about IT and accessibility at work.

Team work

Working with skilled colleagues helped Thomas with his learning and he quickly built confidence in working in a team. This quiet young man soon settled in and became much more confident in offering his own ideas and joining in the general chat. At RNIB we know that line managers and supervisors are in the front line when it comes to looking after your team at work. We have useful tips and guidance across a range of areas to give you the confidence to work successfully with blind and partially sighted colleagues and dispel a few myths along the way.

A success story

Now Thomas is a Production Operative and works in all parts of the factory. He is a valued and capable worker and was recently selected to join a working group considering safe working practices and coronavirus restrictions.

Thomas has shown that a young person with sight loss can succeed in achieving a Modern Apprenticeship in what is a very "hands on" kind of work. With a supportive employer, assessor and team, Thomas has shown he has what it takes. 

Thomas: It's hard work and you really have to stick at it but you get really good support. You just need to be willing to give new things a go.

Tips for employers hosting an apprenticeship

There are several considerations an employer should make when employing a blind or partially sighted person and the same principles apply when hosting an apprenticeship: 

Check that application forms and interview processes are accessible.

Remember there is a wide range of assistive technologies that can support a blind or partially sighted apprentice in their role.

Employers have a legal responsibility. The law states that employers are required to make "reasonable adjustments" to support a disabled employee.   Many adjustments can be made at minimal cost however there is financial support from the government’s Access to Work scheme that pays towards any extra employment costs such as assistive technology.

RNIB offer advice about risk assessing, making simple adaptations to workplaces and support related to coronavirus .

An inclusive induction will provide a firm foundation for a successful apprenticeship.

For more information about all the tips above please visit our employers and businesses pages.

Further information

Visit the government apprenticeship website to discover everything you need to know about becoming an apprentice or hiring an apprentice.

Considering an apprenticeship: Find out more from RNIB about how to access an apprenticeship here.

Employers: If you are an employer who is thinking of taking on an apprentice we have lots of useful resources on our employers and businesses pages.