Workplaces that employ people with disabilities enjoy a major boost to their team spirit, says Lucianne Bird, director of learning at National Learning Network.
From 2017 to 2022, training provider National Learning Network has helped more than 2,400 people with disabilities and those with additional needs to find jobs with companies such as Facebook, eir, Ryanair, Mr Price and across the hospitality and tourism industry.
In the past five years, NLN helped another 3,700 people to transition to a broad range of further training education opportunities, with 50% progressing onto higher level training and education courses including third-level colleges and universities.
NLN is the education and training division of Rehab Group. It is Ireland's largest private provider of personalised education, training and employment services.
Lucianne Bird said: “The feedback from employers is that employees from NLN arrive with a very strong work ethic and they’re really motivated to work. Employers are not taking people on the basis of their disability, but on their strong contribution to the workforce.
“The evidence also shows that people with disabilities have the highest attendance records. They also have a very positive impact on team spirit across the workforce and help promote a positive work environment.”
NLN hosts its inaugural National Open Day at 11am on Wednesday, August 24, with more than 30 centres across the country opening their doors to the public.
“At the open day, we will tell employers what to expect from the people they take on from NLN. We’ll explain that our doors are always open with support and advice available at all times. We will take away any concerns that employers may have about going down this route.”
NLN delivers training to people claiming any form of disability benefit, those recovering from an accident or injury, or those living with mental health challenges, autism or learning disabilities.
NLN also supports people with complex and enduring mental health issues through a new programme launched in 2019 called Individual Placement and Support (IPS).
IPS helps people who would have otherwise met with barriers to the employment market to find work in mainstream competitive jobs. Some 616 of NLN’s IPS participants have secured employment since 2019.
People who found work through NLN, and who may otherwise have remained reliant on social welfare payments, have contributed more than €750,000 to the State, while also saving the Exchequer c.€100,000 annually in reduced expenditure on social welfare benefits, not including savings on secondary benefits.
The more important benefits, of course, are the gains that the workplace experiences from being inclusive.
"After more than two years of living with a pandemic we have many people living with new mental health challenges and complications of Long-Covid that could avail of these life-changing courses and get back on track,” said Lucianne Bird.
“We work with people not just with a disability, but those who have had a health setback, mental health condition, recovering from an accident, autism and intellection disability. We are a pathway for people to access further and third level education, apprenticeships and employment. If you have a disability, you are twice as likely to be unemployed in this country; this is unacceptable.
“At NLN, we believe no one should be left behind and this is what our inclusive, equitable education and training model is all about.”
NLN participant Wendy Newman acquired a brain injury in 2015 following a fall from a horse. She subsequently lost her job as a Montessori teacher. Wendy began studying IT and office skills at NLN in Navan and is now back in employment.
Wendy said: “I was lost. I thought my life had no meaning. I didn’t have a clue what I could do next. Then someone told me about NLN. From the minute I heard about it, I felt it was something that would suit me.
“If nothing else, it would get me out of bed, get me organised, encourage me to plan, and have a social life again. From the moment I walked in the door, I could see smiling faces and I knew this was right for me. My tutor knew about my fatigue and we chatted about how he could support me.
“He gave me a chair beside the door and said anytime you need to step out please just do that, and I have to say, that little bit of understanding made all the difference. It’s given me back my independence and I learned that I had something to offer.”
Anyone interested in attending an NLN Open Day can log on to nln.ie to find the location of their nearest centre.