Me and my shadow: all in a day's work experience


Today, Enda Kenny and Joan Burton will have an extra staff member, as part of an annual scheme to bring more people with disabilities into the workforce, writes SYLVIA THOMPSON

OFFICES, HOTELS, banks, Garda stations, shops, hairdressing and beauty salons and even Government departments have extra workers to call on today as part of the annual Job Shadow Initiative. Now in its fifth year, the scheme invites people with disabilities to shadow workers throughout Ireland in workplaces where they might get jobs in the future.

“People with disabilities are a pool of potential employees and an untapped resource that employers can access,” says Teresa Mallon, chairperson of the Irish Association of Supported Employment (IASE), which organises the event. “The day gives people who may be working in a sheltered setting an opportunity to explore jobs they might not have considered.”

People with disabilities between the ages of 25 and 64 are half as likely to be at work as the general population. And according to the IASE, over one-third of people with disabilities who are not at work would be interested in a job if the circumstances were right.

This year, about 400 people with disabilities are participating in Job Shadow Day. Each participant has back-up support from a job coach in the disability service they are connected to. Since the scheme started in 2007, 56 paid jobs for people with disabilities have been created.

Austin Lynch is one of the people who was involved in last year’s Job Shadow Day. He shadowed the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton.

“It was very good. I had to get up very early and go to the Dáil, and there were cameras everywhere,” he says. “Minister Burton introduced me to everyone as we went into the Dáil. Then, we went to a recycling centre in Tallaght and back to the Dáil for lunch. I really enjoyed it. I’ll never forget the day.”

Joan Burton, who will be shadowed again this year, says last year’s Job Shadow Day was successful for everyone involved. “It raised the expectations of job coaches, employers and employees. People with disabilities also have a lot of ability. Voluntary organisations, employability services and job coaches can help them get work placements, and the supports are there to help employers,” she says.

Shadowing ministers is essentially about raising the profile of Job Shadow Day. Those being shadowed this year include the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Minister of State for Equality, Disability and Mental Health Kathleen Lynch, and Senator David Norris. But the day is more about giving employers a real experience of having a person with a disability as part of their workforce.

Peter Flood, who is profoundly deaf and uses Irish Sign Language, is working at Irishjobs.ieon Grand Canal Quay today. “I love working with computers and am going to classes to learn about social networking,” says Flood.

He will shadow Marie Reilly, the content editor and social media manager at The company will launch An Employer’s Guide to Supported Employment as a new segment or microsite on its website today, and Reilly plans to introduce Flood to all the people who follow their website on Twitter and Facebook.

“So, Peter and I will spend the day getting chat going around the country on Job Shadow Day and once the guide goes live on the website, we’ll tell all our clients about it,” says Reilly. “We already have two people with disabilities who work for Irishjobs.ieand we mentor and take students on work placement from the third-level course for people with disabilities in Trinity College, so it’s something we already support, not just as a once-off day.”

Teresa Mallon says that in this economic climate, it’s not realistic to expect many jobs from this year’s Job Shadow – particularly in the public service with its embargoes on recruitment.

“It still helps to get a relationship going with employers and the day is extremely beneficial for breaking down barriers to including people with disabilities,” she says.

One of the biggest fears of most employers, she says, is that the person won’t be able to do the different components of the job.

“The key is to provide the level of support needed for the person with the disability and the employer, and this support needs to be there in the long-term in a paid job.”

She adds: “We must remember in these times of high unemployment that the job a person with a disability is looking for may not be the same as what other people are looking for. It could be for shorter hours [spread] over a number of days in the week.”