I thank the committee for having us. It is a very welcome opportunity. I am the CEO of the Open Doors Initiative. We are a group of more than 95 organisations that work in collaboration to create pathways to work for marginalised groups. These include refugees and migrants, youth from disadvantaged background, people with disabilities and any intersectionality. We are also expanding our work to include the Travelling community and other groups that are impacted by low employment. To do this we organise training, work experience, mentoring, research and employment itself. We also help entrepreneurs on their journey. Last year, we helped more than 2,300 people find pathways to work for the first time. President Higgins said recently that we have not suffered Covid equally, that poor people have suffered disproportionately and that Roma and Travellers have been even further impacted. They are very key words. This shows in the 80% unemployment rate the Travelling community faces and even higher barriers they have to gaining employment. We have put together several recommendations. I will run through them quickly. We think these would be practical ways to make some change in this situation and as both previous speakers have noted, this will take time.
First, all programmes should be guided by members of the Travelling community itself. They are best placed to know their needs and what would encourage people to participate. Peer-led services will have the most success when the funding, supports and resources that are required are put in place.
Specific training, education pathways and job supports such as pre-work assistance and on-the-job supports also need to be put in place. This helps both the employer and employee and ensures recruitment on merit, retention and career progression.
Discrimination and racism need to be addressed in myriad fora, including in recruitment and human resources and among employers. We really encourage the inclusion of anti-racism training as part of the learning process for everyone involved in this area.
People from marginalised backgrounds have substantial entrepreneurial capabilities, yet no national strategies have been designed to enable people from the Traveller community to pursue self-employment as a career opportunity. To pick up on what Ms Comerford mentioned, a great example was highlighted last week with the launch of the report of the St. Stephen's Green Trust. It featured Bounce Back Recycling, a Traveller-led social enterprise. There needs to be more work in this area.
We echo the need to increase the local government and public sector percentage of diverse hiring. Given the challenges that lie ahead after Covid in securing employment, local government should take the lead and proactively increase the number of people from the Traveller community whom it employs. Department of Justice internships comprise a real step in the right direction in this regard.
We feel we should establish a large-scale mentoring programme. In our work, this has been a really successful element in helping people to get into employment. We encourage businesses to join in the programme as role models to help to instil confidence in jobseekers, allow them to begin to make connections and a support network and lead them through the process of applying for jobs and gaining interview skills. The new Traveller Graduate Network is a very good example of this peer support. It was set up just recently.
As childcare, caring roles and transport can also be an issue for various groups, we suggest that a network of remote working hubs be built nationwide to accommodate people to work away from home, if that is their choice or requirement. The hubs need to have reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. We could then link in with industry and organisations such as Grow Remote to help to create specific internships and jobs for people in these settings.
Another area is the digital divide. We feel there is a need to maximise access to hardware, Wi-Fi and training in digital skills. Covid has certainly emphasised the divide in communities. Therefore, it is really important that this be addressed.
In our own work, we recently launched a project called Employers For Change, which is directly aimed at aiding people with disabilities in entering work. It operates in conjunction with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The aim of the project is to empower employers with all the information and advice they need to hire inclusively and employ, manage and retain staff with disabilities. We feel a similar hub with information on the Traveller community, pointed towards employers, would be incredibly useful. There is discrimination, misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge of the culture, language and needs of the Traveller community, who are particularly marginalised when it comes to employment.
In summary, there is a requirement for targeted supports to be put in place to ensure fair and full representation in the workplace for the Traveller community. Diverse workplaces help business, existing employees and people themselves. There is also a greater societal benefit arising from of inclusive practices, with the reduction of stigma, bias and racism. Support by the Government is key to this and we welcome the new strategy being prepared by the Department to help make progress on employment within this community.
I thank members for their time. I welcome any questions they may have on my statement.