Banish the Barriers to Work Placements

Members News - Nov 04, 2013

Work placement is a key challenge for many not profit organisations (NGO’s) running employment programmes. Throughout 2013, I have consulted with many organisations whose focus is on the employment of marginalised groups. Overwhelmingly the feedback identified the need for work placements as the number one issue. Businesses were not engaging in this type of support. So why are work placements such a challenging issue?   Not only is it an issue for disability organisations like EmployAbility and National Learning Network , but it is for NGO’s who work with travellers, people with mental health issues, immigrants, people in transition from homelessness and young people.

ImpactsSo how do we challenge business about addressing this identified need from the community, charitable & voluntary sector?  Back in October, Minister Bruton of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation addressed Irish business leaders at our CEO Forum.  He issued a challenge.  Businesses could play a critical role in supporting marginalised people into employment. He felt that business is well placed to support this agenda, particularly through work placement opportunities to people on the margins so they can gain valuable experience and useful skills for the job market.

So how should businesses approach work placements?  What are the motivators for engaging in this type of support? Is it because it’s simply the right thing to do or because it adds value to the business?  Well, leading companies like Accenture, Marks & Spencer and Shell have embraced work placement as part of their Corporate Responsibility strategies.  Diversity, equal opportunities and inclusion are key components of a well- functioning workplace.   So how are leading companies benefitting from work placement provision?  I approached a number of our members for their views.

Accenture’s global Skills to Succeed programme seeks to educate people around the world, building skills that enable them to participate in and contribute to the economy.  Accenture choose to offer work placements as it is intrinsically linked with their Skills to Succeed programme. Their suggestion is that organisations should ensure they have a strategy and approach in place for work placements. This includes knowing what teams / areas in the organisation work placement candidates would be most suitable for.  Another key suggestion from Accenture is that businesses take time to ensure buy-in and support from all stakeholders across all levels within the business.

Barriers can often be perceived in that companies see potentially too much work involved based on client needs; however they will be fully supported through the process by a dedicated resource from the NGO.  From my discussions with business representatives, they see the value of work placements around access to skills – skills they want and need. Work placements give the employer and the client the time to get to know each other before entering into any formal arrangements.

Member Company Marks & Spencer who support our Ready for Work (RFW) programme -people with high barriers to employment take on work placements for RFW clients.  Many clients have successfully gained full time employment. The value to M&S is that these clients are highly motivated and loyal and give back hugely to the company. These qualities are reflected in the delivery of excellent customer service – so essential to M&S.

So employers – why not try out work placements and test these perceived barriers. You can get involved in our own RFW programme or EPIC (Employment of Immigrant Communities).   We have a dedicated team who will support you and the client through the process.  See

Or if you want to try a ‘taster’ of work placement for one day then employers can sign up for National Job Shadow Day which is an excellent initiative.  The initiative gives employers the opportunity to test the process and if they find the value in doing it, then then they get involved for a longer period of time.  Our member company Shell has been involved with the Irish Association for Supported Employment (IASE) who runs Job Shadow Day since 2008.  This partnership started with sponsorship and then looked at the importance of raising awareness of the barriers that can exist (both physical and perception based) for people with disabilities that are seeking employment, Shell is an active participant in the initiative as employers.   For Shell, the benefits of the partnership with IASE are clear, both via the funding element in that it aligns closely with their Corporate Responsibility strategy – a vision of being a good neighbour in the area in which they operate.  Through their participation, it has challenged staff to look at ways of encouraging a more inclusive workplace. It has been a truly positive experience for Shell and they would encourage all employers to participate in the actual Job Shadow Day, as it is a journey of self -awareness for companies.

So how does National Job Shadow Day work in practice? –  I contacted Róisín McDonagh who is an Employment Facilitator with EmployAbility Galway. Rosin has a client with Cerebral Palsy who had been looking for work for some time. Over time it became clear that job interviews were one of the biggest barriers for her client. During interviews she got so nervous she felt she couldn’t prove herself sufficiently.  Her client took part in Job Shadow Day with Avaya – a global company in business communications. Over the course of the day the client relaxed and her talents really shone through.  Her IT and language skills came to the fore. Following Job Shadow, her client got the opportunity to interview for Avaya, and is now undertaking a JobBridge placement, following a training programme.  A win all round.

In conclusion, I would like employers to rise to the challenge and provide work placement opportunities.  Youth unemployment in Ireland is a key social issue – the current rate of youth unemployment is 29.6%. For businesses, employment could be considered as a key theme or focus of a Corporate Responsibility strategy either as a community or work place component.  Employers will get experienced, dedicated support through the process from the NGO, making it easy for the employer.  There are financial incentives offered by Government, but more importantly access to motivated talented individuals who really want the opportunity to prove themselves in a workplace setting but just need to be given the chance.

National Job Shadow Day is Wednesday 9th April 2014

 IASE run the “Job Shadow” initiative, a national project bringing people with disabilities and local employers together for one day to promote equal employment opportunities and highlight the valuable contribution people with disabilities can, and do, make at work.  Participants explore the world of work by shadowing someone in the workplace as they go about their normal working routine.   See



Ann Howgego
Corporate Responsibility Consultant (Community Outreach)

Tel: + 353 1 8747232  Email: