Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer BT talks about executing reasonable adjustments: Insider Q&A
It’s been wonderful to bring about another powerful conversation all around how to make reasonable adjustments and best practice work-based support.
If you missed it, our latest panel in The Reasonable Adjustments Series talked to three incredible guests about their experience in the industry and the work they do to support learners and employees.
We were so pleased to welcome:
Navila Amin – Senior Talent Development Partner at BT
Charlotte Bosworth – Managing Director at Innovate Awarding
Skip ahead to the audience Q&A to see what insight we brought to listening organisations or carry on scrolling to hear all about BT’s best in class support structure and advice for apprenticeships providers of all sizes.
What is the benefit to an employer to understand how somebody thinks and employing reasonable adjustments for that person?
Stewart: When someone’s on a training programme, there’s a great opportunity I think to do a couple of things. To take a step back with the individual and do some of the support that you would normally never do within the working environment.
People are very good at making their own adjustments and very often, it’s not clear what additional support someone might need.
But as soon as you introduce a new and challenging programme like an apprenticeship, which is based in the workplace, then it gives the employer an opportunity to take a step back.
Sometimes, they might have to work with some experts to get under some of those issues that the individual might experience.
I think there’s lots of opportunities for them to therefore improve in the workplace in terms of the way they’re doing their job. And the knock-on effect with their manager and their whole team to understand how that happens.
It has to be handled sensitively but think there is a great opportunity for a wider impact than just the training.
Do you have any best practice advice in terms of having those conversations with learners in the workplace?
Navila: I think we’re quite lucky. Obviously, we’re quite a large organisation so this is quite a big thing for us.
We are an Equal Opportunities employer as it is, whether it’s an apprentice or anybody else who is recruited in.
I think that’s the biggest piece of advice, it’s around equipping your line managers to have the right conversations.
Can they actually identify and know if the individual has a learning difficulty? Spotting that can be quite difficult if you’ve not worked in that area before to understand that someone might have slightly different needs.
I think seasoned line managers or someone who knows what to look out for that always really helps.
We definitely have loads of support in place for managers and individuals to help them put things in place, whether it’s mental health assistance, financial wellbeing or a physical disability.
We even have passports, and this is a great one that other organisations should definitely think about. We call it a BT Passport.
This is where an individual will have a conversation with their line manager, and it could be about mental health disability, a physical disability, it could be that you have caring responsibilities, for instance. But it’s a document that only you and your line manager can see, you complete it together and you review every so often.
In there is the detail around what is the disability, what are the responsibilities that you have got. It’s important to regularly review that and ensure that the adjustments are made for you as an individual and you’re getting all the right support that you need.
It makes that a very live document, so you can always refer back to it and it’s something that we always suggest and recommend that it’s picked up in one-to-ones. Even if you don’t do it every week, on a monthly basis that document is reviewed.
I think that’s quite helpful.
Charlotte: I totally concur with the comments that Navila has made.
The approach we’ve taken is that now we’ve ensured that as part of our interview process is that there is psychometric testing in there, which is done by looking at somebody’s capability.
Actually, from that you can normally pull out a number of people’s styles and behaviours, and then we make sure that that feeds back into something called continuous conversations, which is very much those one-to-ones.
It’s that open conversation with the line manager and the member of staff to keep having that conversation because as we know, needs can change with circumstances. So we encourage people to feel it’s a safe environment to continue to change and share their needs.
Stewart: it’s great to hear from BT. That sounds like a fantastic idea, but there is an issue I’ve experienced where people tend to do all of the analysis upfront.
Certainly for apprentices who are starting an apprenticeship, you know what it’s like – they may not self-declare, they’re slightly nervous about their new business, they’re certainly nervous about new team.
So I think it’s a useful one for training providers to do at maybe when their halfway through the programme, and most training providers don’t do that.
They’ve done the analysis and made their judgement as best they can, and that tends to go throughout the whole programme.
I think there is something around making sure we’re picking that up, and certainly by the time you get round to assessment. I think that is when a lot of people suddenly realise they perhaps have an issue that they’re even more worried about because it’s not been declared.
Charlotte: This is where I feel that we need to make sure that providers, and the trainers in particular, who have that closest relationship with apprentices, have that clear line of sight of where they can feed into the right teams to be able to share any concerns and changes that they see the learners have.
Navila: I think the biggest thing for me, when it comes to an apprenticeship is if it’s an external training provider that we are working with is that relationship between the coach from the training provider and the line manager as well.
That tri-party relationship with the learner because those are so important to ensure that they’re having the right conversations at the right times. If the line manager has seen something that they are feeding that to the coach. And if the coach has seen something, they’re feeding that the line manager.
I think those conversations are so key throughout, so having those on a regular basis as well.
It’s something that we’re really passionate about and make sure that when we are talking to our training providers, if we are not the training provider ourselves, that that’s in place because that relationship is so key not just for learning but absolutely for all of those things on the periphery as well that will impact the learner.
Charlotte: I think we do need to get better at equipping trainers.
There’s quite a lot of pressure on trainers to get people through to complete and do a number of different things.
How do we better equip trainers and providers to be able to pick up when people’s needs are changing? It’s a skill in its own right to be able to identify those challenges and tease those out of learners.
Charlotte, from your perspective, what are the main differences between employer providers and ITPs?
Charlotte: Really the relationship isn’t massively different, but the one thing we’ve really been working hard to do is to ensure that only employer providers understand the infrastructure they will need to be taking on as an employer provider.
I think in the very early days, there were some people who became employer providers thought the great training that they did in their organisation, that that would be their responsibility without understanding all the additional requirements of Ofsted, identifying learner needs, the admin associated with being an employer provider.
So we’ve been doing quite a lot of work to ensure that when someone is making that decision around whether to work with a provider or be an employer provider in their own right, they fully understand the responsibilities that brings with it.
It’s very much around understand your responsibilities and the infrastructure you will need to have in place.
It’s about the strength of relationship with the provider and it does have to be a really close EPAO, training provider and employer relationship.
Navila, you’re an employer provider and you also work with providers, don’t you? So you’ve kind of got two hats there.
Navila: Absolutely, and I think you’re right, Charlotte.
As an employer provider, you do need to have all the things in place to ensure all the Ofsted piece is there. You’re working directly with the ESFA as well. Understanding and building all of those relationships with the end-point assessment organisations.
When you’re working with the training provider and the end-point assessment organisation, again I think it’s that tri-party relationship and ensuring that it all fits together.
I always talk about the cultural fit and the partnership because for me that’s how it really needs to work because you need to be able to pick up the phone to one another, have honest and straight conversations and not be fearful of speaking to that individual.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a training provider in the middle and the end-point assessment organisation, if you’ve got the relationships you can still have the conversation at all levels, but you definitely need the infrastructure in place to be able to do that.
Stewart: On this issue, I’ve been involved, well, too many years in the sector so far. In the last ten years, one of the main drivers of the Richard Review and the recent changes was to get employers in the driving seat.
It started with employers “own the process” and then they changed the words to “drive the process”.
I think the important thing is that the employer showed on every occasion be in control of the whole process.
They shouldn’t feel that they have to run the training to keep that control, and I don’t think training providers of done a very good job of giving them the reins and making it clear that they’ve got control.
I think we’re getting better at that though, so that the employer doesn’t need to feel they have to do everything to create the sort of relationships that Navila is talking about.
So we have reasonable adjustments right through the learner journey, up to and including end-point assessment.
How can we ensure that those reasonable adjustments are passed on through to employment? How can we ensure this joined up approach?
Charlotte: I think employers will be aware of their employees need anyway, so hopefully they’re aware before they go into the learning journey. It would be part of their continual good practice as a responsible organisation.
I may be putting my own organisation’s hat on.
I know in my organisation, and of course it’s nowhere near the size of BT, that we have about 150 staff. I know the staff that have additional needs, I know the people that we need to keep an eye on, and you kind of think that most responsible employers would know that and would be doing anyway.
Stewart: I agree with that, but I think training providers could do more and it’s partly coming back to the way it’s presented.
What we don’t want is a training provider saying, “We’re all good to go with the EPAO We’ve got to make some adjustments, but don’t worry about it. It won’t be an issue. We’ll sort it out, you don’t have to do anything.”
That’s clearly not going to provide a nice bridging into employment when they’re done with the EPA and they’ve been successful.
If you say to the employer, “Look, they’ve got some particular needs, there are ways of making adjustments so we can make sure they give it their best.”
You’d think that the employer can then take some of those lessons with them and take them back to the workplace.
I think providers and EPAOs can do a better job of not dressing up as a problem but as part of a normal process. Hopefully that’s a better way of encouraging the employer to take an interest and to maintain that after the programme’s finished.
Navila: You would also really hope though that the employer actually knows about these needs.
For the apprentice to do their job effectively, they might need those adjustments in place for their roles in their day-to-day activities, not just their apprenticeship.
So I don’t think the onus is just on training providers, I think it’s on the employer to understand the individual.
I can only speak for us, but if someone has declared that they have some needs that need to look at during their recruitment process, we would put them through occupational health.
They would go see a doctor, we would get a report from the doctor that will go to the line manager, they would know what they need to do and put in place for that individual and it would get reviewed.
If the individual has chosen not to tell the employer, then that makes it difficult, but again if it’s impacting their role, I think it also needs to be picked up.
If an employer doesn’t know and a line manager doesn’t know, and they just feel like the individual isn’t performing, it could become a very difficult and different conversation.
That’s where I think it just needs open and honest conversation. It’s always the best way forward.
I think it’s on the training provider if they know to encourage the apprentice to share with their employer.
Charlotte: I think from our experience as an EPAO, we’ve seen that in most circumstances there is a whole raft of different assessments we offer and a whole load of reasonable adjustments that we can apply to those. But in 90 per cent of the cases it’s extra time that people want and require.
You think about applying that back into the workplace, They’re quite easy adjustments to be able to apply actually.
Sometimes we can look to overcomplicate this, where there could be some really simple things to apply when the apprentice is in full ownership of the employer.
We talk about reasonable adjustments and disability but there are a wide range of barriers out there.
There is evidence to show that people with invisible difficulties are more likely to miss out on support, such as reasonable adjustments and are more likely to experience discrimination even if the invisible difficulty is well known.
Are there any best practice tips to prevent such bias within an organisation as a whole?
Navila: I think if it was a small to medium organisation, I would definitely recommend getting support externally if you haven’t got the internal support to understand what all of these things might be and how to interact with them.
I work in an organisation where we are really lucky. We have our own chief medical officer and a team of people that support and understand all of these things so we can put them in place.
It comes down to the culture, the line management, understanding what these invisible needs are, how do they come about and how to spot them as well.
If an individual doesn’t identify, what are these things? Are they mood swings, really calm one day and then they might be a bit anxious the next day? Understanding and getting to know your people, and I think that’s the biggest key.
Know your team. Know your people. Know when something is wrong.
All of us are going through some kind of change at the moment due to pandemic and even checking in with an individual, just finding out how they are I think is the biggest thing that anyone can do.
I would always say find out, have open and honest conversations and let them feel safe to talk about it.
It’s only when we have these conversations that we can remove the stigma because there is no stigma.
We’ve got to realise that people at work are a cross-section of society. In society, everybody has these issues and we have to help them, whether they’re from a disadvantaged background or they’ve got other things going on.
Any support we can give, we absolutely should.
As a responsible employer, I would like to think that most organisations put that support is a wraparound the learners.
Hopefully that’s given you some great insight and tips.
You can, of course, watch the full event on demand.
But wait… There’s more
You can also read about the next and final panel in the series on outcomes for inspection insights and real-life success stories.
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- Where reasonable adjustments have the most impact for learners.
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- Best practices on evidencing and execution.