Helping Cork women to return to work

COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to Fiona Ryan of Ludgate, to find out about the West Cork Reignite Programme supporting women returning to work
Helping Cork women to return to work

CEO Tracey Keogh of Grow Remote and Fiona Ryan Start Up & Entrepreneurship Manager, The Ludgate Hub.

WOMEN in West Cork who wish to return to work are being supported by Rethink Ireland’s Rural Recovery Fund.

The fund, worth €600,000, has been awarded to six community projects around the country, with €55,000 allocated to Skibbereen-based Ludgate Operations.

Ludgate is managing the initiative through the West Cork Reignite Programme. It is targeting women who have taken time out from work to mind children, look after elderly parents, or recover from an illness.

Starting in September, the women will take part in an 11-week training, coaching and mentoring programme followed by a three-month work placement.

Fiona Ryan, project lead of the West Cork Reignite Programme, says some women may not wish to return to work immediately after the course.

“But they’ll want to update their skills so that maybe in a year or two they can return to the workplace,” she said.

It is very much an employee’s market - once they have the relevant skills for the workplace. As Fiona points out, there is “a skills gap and a shortage of talent”.

She stresses the importance of up-skilling and re-skilling women, giving them the confidence to take steps back towards the workplace.

“Companies are crying out for talent and they can’t find it. It’s because people are looking at changing careers. If you look at the hospitality sector, there’s a huge shortage of talent because people have had the time to reassess their lives during Covid. They maybe want to do another course, take up education, or go travelling.”

One outcome of Covid is that people want more flexibility in their working lives.

“They want a hybrid model, a mix of working at home and in the office. They want work that suits their family commitments.”

The issues facing women who have been out of the workplace for a while include confidence.

“They may not have been in front of an interview panel for quite some time. As a result, they don’t have the confidence to get up there and speak, answering the questions posed to them. An interview style is quite unique. You have to be relaxed and you have to talk confidently in order to secure the job. But even when a woman gets back into the workplace, having been away from it for five to ten years, it can be quite daunting. Even your communication style is really crucial to success, how you communicate with colleagues and with the customers. Communications and confidence are a big part of the programme. Also, it covers preparing CVs.”

To ensure that the women on the programme have the appropriate skills to return to the workplace, the Reignite Programme includes training in Excel, Microsoft Word and all the social media platforms. How someone promotes herself “is very important,” says Fiona.

“It’s about ‘brand me’, making sure the women are boasting about their incredible talents and skill-set. It’s about doing that appropriately through the platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. These can be daunting to operate. I know that myself. I’m only getting familiar with Twitter now. It’s an incredible resource but unless I train myself and put myself out there, I won’t be confident to post (on social media.)

“The training course will bridge that gap, helping the women to navigate those platforms and communicate effectively, ensuring they have the appropriate digital skills to go back to work.”

Fiona hopes male colleagues will be supportive of women returning to the workplace.

“There is still very much a gender pay gap and a gap in equality throughout the workplace in Ireland and beyond. Hopefully, through the course, we can address that as well.”

The course does not require a huge commitment in terms of hours. Classes for two to three hours will take place once a week. And the women will have access to the Ludgate Learning Management Systems whenever they require it.

“They can simply log into it and access relevant material.”

What job opportunities are there for the women, on completion of the course?

“The cohort will hopefully take up positions with West Cork-based companies. And because remote working is such a big thing now, they can also take up jobs with other companies that may not be in West Cork,” said Fiona.

For women working from home, the pull of the kitchen and housework may be hard to shake off.

“That’s why you have to be regimented. You have to say it’s 9am or whatever and you need to log on for work. Alternatively, you could be working for a company that doesn’t mind if you start at 9am or 4pm as long as the job gets done. We have all changed and shifted our work practices.

“Surveys have shown that women are getting a lot more done in terms of managing the household and achieving in the workplace, be it working from home or in a hybrid situation or from a hub.”

Fiona is an example of a busy mother-of-three and a career women, who works from home on Wednesdays.

“My job is flexible. It has to be. I work hard and can work my own hours. If I want to pick up my laptop at 8pm when the kids are gone to bed, I can take back my hour somewhere else. That flexibility is really important for women, not rushing around and feeling that we’re under-achieving.”

The pace of life, she says, has put a lot of pressure on people. But the silver lining from the pandemic has woken us up to different ways of working.

“I don’t think I could go back to 9am-5.30pm, five days a week. I feel I’m achieving a lot more now.”

Employers have to be open to flexibility for their workforces.

“If there isn’t flexibility, employees will look elsewhere for it.”

As to what sectors the West Cork-based women can hope to work in after completing the course, Fiona says the organic food and beverage sector is a good employer.

“There’s also Spearlines, a local telecoms company that is expanding. Hopefully, there will be opportunities there. And there are other corporates such as Global Shares, a finance company, and Capita, which manages accounts for different organisations. There’s the hospitality and retail sectors and there’s O’Donnell Furniture.”

The Rural Recovery Fund is supported by and the Government of Ireland, via the dormant accounts fund. The other five recipients of the fund are the Peter McVerry Trust, the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Camphill Initiatives for Social Ecology, Kantoher Development Group, and Grow Remote.

Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland, says: “We are delighted to have been able to create the Rural Recovery Fund with support from the Government and who have helped us to provide for some tremendous initiatives.

“The challenges of finding work and opportunities in rural Ireland are common to all rural communities, but each with a unique local aspect.”

She adds that “the new era we find ourselves in has provided us with a great opportunity to revitalise living and working in rural Ireland in a way that has never been possible before, and we hope that we will continue to see projects like these that will contribute to building the prosperous and inclusive communities with rich economic and cultural life we all want to see.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more