Successful assessment centres (and other types of apprenticeship interview venues) create environments that enable them to connect positively with the would-be apprentices they want to attract. They think carefully about how the assessment or interview process works and ensure every part of that process enables applicants – including those with different needs – to give their very best on the day.
These organisations proactively embrace diversity. Their own staff reflect the wide-ranging characteristics and backgrounds of apprentices themselves and they work hard to ensure that ALL candidates feel welcome and, moreover, accepted when they engage with them. They are not only passionate about what they do, they are committed to delivering diversity ‘in action’ – not just ‘ticking a box’.
Below are a few tips and ideas to help assessment centres and interview venues develop diversity-positive approaches that cater for all candidates, including those with additional support requirements.
Small changes can equal BIG results
One of the easiest and most common adjustments you can make is to allow extra time on written tasks – this is especially important for those with dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD. Providing visual cues, such as sending the agenda to candidates before the day of assessment, having information printed out, or having an assistant available to support them on the day, can also be useful for candidates who are neurodivergent or those with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD).
Make adjustments on a case-by-case basis, according to a person’s needs; there is no fixed measure for what reasonable adjustments should look like in relation to neurodivergence or LDD. If in doubt, invite candidates to share what changes have helped them in the past or what they believe would support them at your assessment centre.
Create an assessment that allows ALL candidates to demonstrate their skills
Always ask yourself if the assessment centre or interview process is an honest and authentic way of evaluating an individual’s ability to succeed in the role. Provide candidates with different opportunities or situations that enable them to prove their abilities. These varying challenges should be for all candidates, whether they have neurodivergence or not.
Have multiple stages where candidates can disclose
Candidates may not realise they require adjustments until faced with a situation on the day, for example, when asked to do a group activity or written assessment. While there may be no obligation for candidates to mention any neurodivergence they may have, situations like these can be very unsettling for individuals who do wish to disclose.
Try to create space at different points during the assessment centre or interview process to allow candidates to disclose any neurodiversity they have.
If an applicant does reveal neurodivergence, like dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism or ADHD etc, be as understanding as possible and be prepared to adjust your approach where needed.
Be clear about what is expected of candidates on the day
Make sure the information you give during the assessment centre or interview process is as clear as possible. This is important for all candidates, but lack of clear information can be an especially tough obstacle for neurodiverse candidates or those with LDD.
All candidates should know exactly what they are required to do and what they are being assessed on. Be direct in the language you use to ensure clarity and fairness. Videos or audio explanations can be useful tools to use for those who take in information better in these formats.
Continually aim to reduce unconscious bias during the assessment
When evaluating candidates, continually ask yourself if you are being as fair as possible. It’s especially important to be mindful of this where candidates have disclosed a neurodivergence. It’s quite common for people to make judgements on such applicants based on an incorrect understanding of what they know about that neurodivergence. That’s because their knowledge of a neurodivergence will often be associated with someone they have met previously.
It is crucial to recognise that neurodivergent people are all individuals and may be affected by their neurodivergence in a way that is unique from others with the same learning difference – this is especially the case for those who have dyspraxia or autism.
Make things accessible
Don’t forget to ask candidates about any accessibility needs they have before they attend for assessment or interview. Here are a few things you might consider:
And finally …
Here are a couple of additional best practice tips that can help make the assessment or interview experience a positive one for all candidates:
Amy Marren is a L7 Solicitor Apprentice working at BPP Holdings Limited.
Being on the autistic spectrum can present many challenges, both personally and professionally. There can be a lot of negativity and our skills and abilities can be underestimated or overlooked.
I completed an NVQ Level 3 Business Administration Apprenticeship in 2020. As part of the apprenticeship experience, apprentices are given an additional 75 hours of off-job study (this is time spent working on assignments, shadowing others, hands-on training in other departments etc).
The 75 hours worked out as about one day a week or so many hours per day. This is something you would discuss with your line manager and assessor.
Training and environment
Training environments will differ depending on the apprenticeship undertaken. West Northamptonshire Council has a learning hub where there are several training rooms, computer banks, breakout areas and a kitchen area. The main advantage of having the learning hub is that it is away from the main office floors, so it is a lot quieter, which gives me the time to focus and concentrate on my studies.
I am sensory sensitive, so I can be affected by loud sounds, so I really enjoyed using the learning hub. I was able to concentrate on my assignments without being disturbed.
As I drew closer to my end-point assessment, the pandemic struck, and I was pulled away from my studies to help with answering phone queries. It resulted in me taking a three-month break. When I returned to my studies, I was working from home. I used an upstairs bedroom at my parents’ home to complete my studies, which meant that I had my own private space to focus and concentrate. My parents would provide me with tea or coffee at regular intervals, so I didn’t get too overwhelmed. My end-point assessments were also completed from home.
I think the right training environment is important because, although you need to ensure that everyone has the same resources, each individual also has different needs, preferences and learning styles, which will need to be accommodated, such as making sure reasonable adjustments are put in place where necessary. This fits in with equity, diversity and inclusion.
My learning experience
A lot of my training was delivered in monthly workshops. I chose to do one day a week of study (eventually moving to two days a week as I came close to my gateway to end-point assessment and realised I was struggling).
The workshop allowed me to learn knowledge, skills and behaviours along with the other apprentices who were in my cohort. We did a lot of team-building activities, which were also fun and engaging, and great for motivation. We could also share our experiences, thoughts, and ideas. I really enjoyed it as it also gave us the chance to get to know each other and network too, which I sometimes struggle with.
When I wasn’t attending workshops or doing my job role, I would use the computer banks in the learning hub to research and complete assignments.
Each assignment was clearly explained in simple terms, with bullet points where necessary so I was able to follow it clearly.
Some assignments involved giving presentations, which gave me the chance to practise public speaking. In the past it was something I used to dread, as it involved putting myself out there, and I used to get very nervous about stumbling through my words too much. I would feel myself shaking on the inside. Now I have found my confidence. I gave a presentation on my experiences living and working with Asperger’s as part of my functional skills level 2 English (at the time I didn’t have the relevant GCSE qualifications I needed in English and Maths, which were required to complete the apprenticeship). I received such good feedback on the presentation that I was invited to give it again to a broader audience. This led me to being nominated for and winning two NHCP (Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership) Apprenticeship Awards for ‘Behind the Scenes’ in Adult Social Care and Apprentice of the Year in 2020. I have now found my confidence and continue to give presentations in raising awareness of autism.
I enjoyed my learning as it wasn’t just somebody reeling off loads and loads of information with apprentices taking notes, but also included group activities, one of which was a role play, where we took it in turns to portray being in different job roles and be an observer to feedback. I have never been keen on role plays in case I said the wrong things, but I was able to make fun by twisting it to my advantage by including the assessor as part of it. We had a giggle as she didn’t see it coming. I also built up a good rapport with the assessor and with the rest of the apprentices within my cohort.
Resources and support
The council has a system called iLearn where a lot of the training courses are hosted. Within iLearn there is a ‘Development Toolkit’ which has additional information and resources. This proved to be very useful when completing my assignments. I could also use the staff intranet to get information.
My internal assessor was available if I ever needed her and, on occasion, she would be sitting in the learning hub while I was studying.
My Project Presentation was on Adult Social Care Satisfaction Surveys and how they help to improve the service, and what I would like to see happen in the future. This was the first time I had even been a project lead, so there were times when I was a little nervous, but the line manager and my team were embracing and really encouraged me. I was also provided with feedback which I used as part of my interviews evidence portfolio.
During my end-point assessment, the external assessor was also supportive given my condition on the autism spectrum. When I felt a little short in my Project Presentation (finished a little early), she encouraged me to expand a little to fill it out. She was also encouraging and motivating during my portfolio interview, when I realised that I’d forgotten to page number my evidence. I felt a little embarrassed as it meant I ended up thinking on the spot the whole way through.
I convinced myself that I most certainly didn’t pass, so you can imagine my surprise when later in the afternoon I found out I was given an overall grade of Distinction.
It would be good if additional time was considered for the knowledge test for individuals who may require it. As I was doing it remotely, I had to be monitored by the computer webcam and one of my own devices. At some point the examiner heard me asking my dad to secure my own device, as I was worried it was going to fall. I felt quite anxious saying it in case I was somehow marked down.
The knowledge, skills and behaviours standards were quite hard to follow for me as it was like reading an essay. The format size was too small. For someone on the autism spectrum like me, I think it would be worth considering having the standards produced in documents where each section was colour coded, available in easy read format (could include picture or diagrams), with clear bullet points for each sub section under those three main headings (leaving a couple of spaces between each bullet point, so as not to be too heavy on the eyes given sensory sensitivity).
Rhiannon Rees-Jones is a Business Support Officer at West Northamptonshire Council.