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Vocational training

What you need to know

Case Studies


What is vocational training?

Vocational training is training that provides people with the qualifications, skills and knowledge required to carry out particular types of work and prepares them to enter and progress in their chosen trades, professions and occupations.

Ensuring that all persons have equal opportunities to obtain vocational training is extremely important, for it helps to provide them with equal access to enter into and to progress in that work.

Vocational training providers fall within the scope of discrimination law in several ways:
  • It is unlawful for you as an employer to discriminate in how you provide vocational training to your employees.  This includes your apprentices, and any work-placement trainees that you may offer training opportunities to.  Further information about these duties is available on the employers section of the website.
  • It is also unlawful for schools, further and higher education colleges and universities to discriminate in how they provide vocational training to their pupils/students. Further information about these duties is available on the further and higher education section of the website.
  • It is unlawful for all other vocational training providers (such as professional and commercial firms) to discriminate in how they provide their vocational services to their trainees and service users. This applies regardless of whether you provide these services for a charge or profit or whether you are in the private, public or voluntary sectors.

The following are types of vocational training or associated services where it is unlawful to discriminate:

       - all types and all levels of training which would help fit an individual for employment;
       - any vocational guidance; and
       - any facilities for training.

The law protects prospective, past and present trainees from discrimination.

On what grounds is it unlawful to discriminate?

As a vocational training provider in Northern Ireland you have responsibility not to discriminate against your trainees on grounds of:

  • sex/pregnancy & maternity/marital and civil partnership status/gender re-assignment
  • sexual orientation
  • race/colour/nationality/ethnic or national origins
  • age
  • sexual orientation
  • disability

How are trainees protected against discrimination?

It is unlawful for you, the training provider, to discriminate against a trainee or prospective trainee on one of the protected grounds listed above in:

  • the arrangements you make to offer a trainee training (admissions to training)
  • the terms you afford them access to training
  • refusing access to training
  • excluding/terminating their training
  • the harassment of a trainee
  • treating a trainee unfairly in any other way

However, in the following limited circumstances discrimination is allowed:

  • under the indirect discrimination provisions of discrimination law, if you can demonstrate that your actions, or provisions, criteria or practices are objectively justified and are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  • with a genuine occupational requirement (GOR), that is belonging to a particular group. This is  where a GOR defence legally and properly applies. This means having a particular religious belief, political opinion, age or sexual orientation is necessary for the kind of work for which the vocational training in question is being provided.
  • where positive action may legally and properly be taken.  This is where certain training opportunities may legitimately be offered to people having a particular age, religious belief, political opinion, sex, race, sexual orientation or disability.  

Is all discrimination the same?

No.  there are different types of discrimination, and it doesn't have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:

  • direct
  • indirect
  • victimisation
  • disability related discrimination
  • failure to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled trainees
  • harassment.

When is a vocational training provider liable for the actions of its trainees?

As an employer you are liable for the actions of your employees that are carried out in the course of their employment whether the act was done with or without your knowledge or approval.  This is often referred to as vicarious liability.  For example, you would be liable for harassment or other discrimination carried out by staff such as a trainer.

As a vocational training provider you are not normally vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts of your trainees, for they are neither your employees or agents (ie they are third parties).  However, under the Sex Discrimination Order as the vocational training provider you could be vicariously liable where a trainee sexually harasses an employee of yours (but not another trainee). Even then, you would only be liable if the employee has been subjected to two or more acts of sexual harassment and you are aware of this and have not taken any reasonable practicable steps to prevent it.

Albert's story

Albert applied for the post of Apprentice Sprayer with Wrightbus Ltd. At the time of his application he was aged 44 and unemployed.  He was well qualified and had worked in a variety of jobs over the preceding years. Albert believed that he was not appointed by the Respondents because they felt that he was too old for the post.

During his interview he was asked about his qualifications, that were gained in 1983/1984.  He was informed by the panel that since his exams were so far back they lacked validity and asked if he would he be willing to undertake a course to gain essential skills in Maths and English. However his application form clearly stated that he held both higher and later qualifications.  The panel also asked if he had a problem working with young apprentices/trainees and would he be able to cope financially on an apprentice rate.

Albert lodged a case of discrimination in the Industrial Tribunal which was settled.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

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