Speech for Minister Moloney at the Launch of the WAM Work Placement Programme for 2008 – 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be present at the Graduate Recruitment Fair here in Dublin Castle today. I am equally glad to have been able to accept, on behalf of the Tánaiste, the kind invitation from AHEAD; the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, to use the occasion to formally launch their disabled graduate Work Placement Programme for 2008-09. This WAM (Willing, Able and Mentoring) Programme, a two year project under EQUAL, has had commendable success by two different evaluation criteria. Most important, of course, is that some 60% of participants achieved employment or an extended placement with their employers. Another important yardstick of the Programme’s achievement however has been a proven contribution in shifting traditional mindsets with regard to employing disabled people and building disability capacity in participating companies. EQUAL funding has now ceased and I am delighted to see that FÁS has stepped in to fund the Programme for the next two years. Since labour market services for disabled people were mainstreamed in 2000, FÁS has sought to increase the participation rate of this cohort of its customers on its employment programmes and training courses. Irish labour policy for the foreseeable future will be shaped by the report of the Enterprise Strategy Group, which has concluded that Ireland’s employment future must lie in a high skilled knowledge based economy. Graduates have an important role in achieving, and indeed leading the way towards, this goal. Disabled graduates by their proven ability to overturn barriers to achieve a third level qualification, are eminently suitable to make their unique contribution to the Irish labour force. As with all graduates seeking to enter the open labour market at a level appropriate to their qualifications, they are often faced with the classic ‘Catch 22’ situation, wherein the employer seeks someone with experience but if these graduates can not get a job they have no opportunity of getting the required experience. This is exactly where WAM comes into its own. It has linked up with some major names in Irish business in giving disabled graduates their crucial first step on the career ladder. I am glad to see that so many of these employers are present here today and I congratulate them not only for their participation but also for their foresight in employing our bright young graduates.

I also acknowledge the achievement of the programme participants themselves and indeed specially welcome them here today.

Mentoring is a tool that is now recognised internationally in the recruitment, support and development of new employees. This has now been customised by the WAM Project to be applied in a disability context. It is a two way process: the employer provides the mentoring for the graduate and WAM gives training and support to the employer as is deemed necessary in addressing any ‘hidden barriers’ that may exist in the employment of people with disabilities.

The Government recognises that even at the height of the Celtic Tiger, unemployment among disabled people, including graduates, remained unacceptably high. The reasons for this are many and complex. In seeking to address the problem, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which is also the parent department of FÁS, published its Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act in 2005.

Implementing this has been one of the elements in the Government’s National Disability Strategy. The Sectoral Plan highlighted three key areas requiring implementation:

•Developing the skills of disabled people;
•Stimulating employer awareness and:
•Providing specific employment supports for both disabled people and employers.

In Ireland, increasing numbers of students with disabilities are going to Tertiary Level Education and there are now over 3,000 in higher education. This is a welcome trend as there is increasing evidence of low levels of education being as significant a factor in the unemployment rate of disabled people as is the disability itself.

For its part, AHEAD, rather than bemoan the situation that has faced graduates with disabilities, has grasped the nettle and brought employers, both Irish and multinational, on board in a support mechanism that has been unique in the Irish context. Employers who have participated are to be complimented for seeing the value of WAM and so for assisting with its implementation.

AHEAD, (Ann Heelan and her team) are to be commended for bringing this initiative to fruition. I acknowledge the work of FÁS in giving this venture such vital support. In formally launching WAM 2008-09, I wish the Project every success and I am confident that the lessons learned will be of lasting benefit to the broader disability community.

Thank you