Working towards my dream job

Connecting jobseekers with local employers in Cork is the goal of the recently launched COPE Foundation’s Ability@Work, programme
Working towards my dream job
Stephen O'Leary and Amy Begley, who are supported by Cope Foundation's Ability@Work programme, working in Lidl. Picture: Darragh Kane

THE COPE Foundation, which supports 2,350 children and adults of every ability, is all about inclusion.

Recently, the organisation launched Ability@Work at the Republic of Work on the South Mall. Its aim is to connect jobseekers with local employers in Cork and to promote inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.

The programme has already placed jobseekers with Lidl, the Mater Private Hospital in Mahon, Duke’s Coffee Company, Sodexo and Café Velo. Prospective employers can benefit from disability awareness training for their staff while gaining a greater insight and understanding around disability.

The Ability@Work programme wants to make Cork the ‘inclusive capital of Ireland’.

Amy Begley, who has a disability, works at Lidl in Kanturk and says: “I am so happy that Ability@Work was invented. “It is a great organisation to be with.

“With Ability@Work, I find that I can work towards my dream job. Support is everything in life, there is nothing wrong with it.”

Marian Hennessy is the co-ordinator of Ability@Work. She has been working with the COPE Foundation for more than 25 years and is keen to point out that the Ability@Work programme works well.

“We use a model called Supported Employment where we place people in jobs with the support of a job coach. It’s very critical that the transition phase from having no job to going into the workplace is supported. We prepare and train the person. We talk to the employers and explain if there are any additional supports received. Then, we’re in the background, supporting the person, but we gradually fade away once the person is settled into the job.

“A key component of our programme is that we keep contact with and monitor the employer all the time. We have long term relationships with Cork County Council and the Rochestown Park Hotel, for example, who employ people with disabilities. “

Marian says it has been harder to get jobs since the recession; “So we came up with this idea of developing our own dedicated employment service. Last year, we managed to secure funding through the national ability programme. (With a budget of up to €16million from 2018-2021, it is co-financed by the European Social Fund and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.)”

The funding has enabled Ability@Work to set up its own office at Penrose Wharf. This is an office dedicated to the employment of people with disabilities.

“They call in and register with us as part of the COPE Foundation,” said Marian. “We have three job coaches in the office who support around 20 people each in Cork city and county. Usually, they are registered for a disability allowance. But there are many benefits and different schemes that a person with a disability can benefit from. There’s the wage subsidy scheme. The government gives the employer €5.30 per hour when they employ a person with a disability. That is excellent grant aid.”

People with disabilities are paid the same rate for the job as everyone else, ensuring that there is no exploitation.

“I go in and meet the employer first and do a job analysis. We’ll match the right person to the right job and then we’ll closely monitor the placement.”

As well as giving people with disabilities a degree of independence, it is also good for their wellbeing.

“Everyone wants to live a full life. Society is changing. It’s very fast-paced. There’s a lot of pressures on all of us and that’s no different for a person with a disability. There are challenges with technology. We help people with online application,” says Marian.

Cork University Hospital (CUH) is committed to maximising the number of people with disabilities that it employs. CEO of the hospital, Tony McNamara says it employs 4,000 staff altogether.

“We recently started a programme to become the first autism-friendly hospital in the country,” he said. “We’re working with Aslam, (the national autism charity) to develop the programme for other hospitals. It’s quite a challenge.”

Tony says that while it’s difficult sometimes to define a disability, “about 3.5% of our staff have a disability.”

PJ Murphy is the engineering officer from the maintenance department of CUH and said: “We look after all the properties of CUH and their upkeep. About 12% of our staff have a disability. They work in the grounds and as general operatives.”

PJ became involved with COPE years ago.

“We took two of their service users and gave them experience in porter work and grounds-keeping at the hospital. At the moment, we’re looking at the recruitment of two more service users.

“We have people who range from having epilepsy to intellectual disabilities. What they offer us is like a little family. In any workplace, you can have conflict. But generally, the people with disabilities don’t get involved in conflict. They make a positive contribution and are valued members of staff.”

Conor O’Donovan, head of HR and administration at Lidl Munster, says that in his experience, employees with a disability “have great enthusiasm and a great attitude towards work. You’ll generally find that they’re never late for work. They’re always in good form and do their tasks to the best of their ability. It’s a very positive experience.”

In the area Conor looks after, there are seven people with disabilities employed by Lidl. Five of them came through the Ability@Work programme. Training is managed by Dan Harte at Lidl.

“There is a mentor from Lidl and one from COPE. Everyone has different needs. We’re looking at people with different abilities.”

But there are still prejudices against people with disabilities. Kenneth Kiely, supported by COPE, stood up at the launch and said that for the last five years, he has been looking for work. Despite sending applications to companies advertising for staff, he got “no replies. I went back to college and did warehouse and IT skills. But it’s still difficult so I signed up with Ability@Work. It would be nice if employers were more inclusive.”

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