The Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) programme is an applied learning, development and socialisation programme for young adults with an intellectual disability. The Houses of the Oireachtas Service is facilitating the OWL programme in collaboration with KARE and WALK and supported by the Public Appointments Service.
OWL trainees get a real and applied learning experience in a work setting. They are supported in developing skills which will lead them to access employment in the open labour market. We would like to help other Civil and public sector offices to participate by providing work experience placements for OWL trainees or recruitment opportunities for OWL graduates.
Guide for public sector organisations
Guide for people who would like to become OWL trainees
- When does the next OWL programme begin?
The next OWL programme will begin in September 2021 and trainees can expect to graduate in September 2022.
If you would like to apply to be a trainee in the programme, you will need to apply in April or May 2021.
- Who can apply?
To apply to become an OWL trainee, you must
- be willing and able to take part for 30 hours per week
- have an intellectual disability or autism
- be able to travel independently
- be eligible to receive appropriate HSE funding for WALK or KARE to provide a service
- How do I apply to become an OWL trainee?
If you live in the Dublin area, contact Vicki Hogan, day service programme coordinator at WALK at email@example.com.
If you live in the Kildare area, contact Peter Furlong, operations manager at KARE at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- How are people selected?
The Houses of the Oireachtas Service gives KARE and WALK a list of the roles available.
KARE and WALK refer suitable applicants to the Houses of the Oireachtas Service for shortlisting for roles identified.
Suitable applicants attend a 30 minute formal supported interview and complete a 30 minute practical assessment in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Suitable applicants receive the interview questions, assessment details and marking criteria in advance and reasonable accommodations are agreed and put in place, as required.
The interview and practical assessment carry equal marks. Applicants are scored separately by two interviewers and two assessors. The scores are then combined.
Applicants must meet the minimum threshold to be successful.
Where many applicants meet the minimum threshold, applicants will be ranked based on scoring.
Applicants are informed of the outcome of the interview and assessment process within two to three working days and unsuccessful applicants are given information on other available services.
- How long is the programme and what are the hours?
It takes 10 to 12 months to complete the OWL programme. It is made up of three 12-week work experience placements and a weekly classroom-based training on site with the City of Dublin Education and Training Board.
All placements are full time. You would be expected to attend 30 hours per week, generally between 9.00am and 4.00pm.
- Will I get paid while I am an OWL trainee?
No. The OWL programme is an unpaid learning, development and socialisation programme.
- Will being an OWL trainee affect my social welfare payments?
No, but your social welfare payments may change if you get a paid job.
If you get paid employment, it may affect your social welfare payments. This varies depending on your circumstances and we recommend you discuss it with your service provider.
Meanwhile, here is some general information on the Disability Allowance and medical card.
The Disability Allowance payment is a means tested payment. If you earn up to €120 from work this is not considered in the means test. If you earn between €120 and €350 each week from work 50% of your pay is not considered in the Disability Allowance means test. All pay from work over €350 is assessed as income and your Disability Allowance payment will be reduced in line with the “appropriate reduced rates of payment for Disability Allowance”. The Department of Social Protection publishes a Social Welfare Rates of Payment booklet each year.
The medical card is also means tested. If you are getting Disability Allowance and working, income you earn up to €427 per week is not taken into account in the means test for the medical card.
- What type of work might I be doing?
Roles in each work experience rotation vary and can include
- General clerical duties including data entry and spreadsheets
- Sorting and distributing post
- Arranging and filing documents
- Customer service: signing visitors in and handing out badges
- Catering duties including food preparation, cleaning and setting tables, stocking fridges, filling and emptying the dishwasher, sweeping and keeping areas clean and tidy
- Shredding and paper stocking for printers
- Filing invoices
- Who will support me when I am a trainee on the programme?
KARE and WALK provide two full time OWL coordinators who are based on site in Leinster House. These coordinators are funded by the HSE (Health Service Executive). The Coordinators provide support to each trainee throughout the programme. Section heads and mentors/buddies also provide coaching, mentoring and active learning during each work experience placement.
Each trainee completes induction once they start the programme and this includes lots of information about the supports available to them.
- What is expected of OWL trainees during their placements?
On placement each trainee is expected to:
- Participate in all workplace learning
- Develop team building skills
- Engage with workplace supports, coaching and mentoring
- Apply workplace knowledge in each work experience placement
- Work towards a formal qualification Level 3 QQI Award in Work Experience and Career Progression
- Participate in workplace socialisation opportunities
- Will I get a job after I graduate from the OWL programme?
There is no guarantee of a full-time job from the OWL programme. KARE and WALK help OWL graduates seek full time or part time employment in the public or private sectors. Some graduates have secured contracts in the Houses of the Oireachtas and Public Appointments Service.
- If I am not eligible for the OWL programme are there other options for me?
There are a number of other options available to people if they are not eligible for the OWL programme, these include:
HSE Occupational Guidance Officers
The HSE Occupational Guidance Service helps people with a disability to find training options or support services that best suits their needs. Information on services per county is available on the local HSE disability service page.
The organisation AHEAD run a work placement programme for graduates called WAM. Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) is a work placement programme which aims to promote access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities and build the capacity of employers to integrate disability into the mainstream workplace. WAM works with participating employers to offer mentored, paid, work placements for graduates with disabilities.
Contact details: Caroline McGrotty, WAM Co-ordinator / Angela Glancy, Client Liaison Officer | email@example.com | 01 716 8844
The EmployAbility service is a national service which provides an employment support service for people with a:
- Health condition
- A professional job-matching service to help ensure successful recruitment
- Advice and information on additional employment supports
- Ongoing support for both the employer and employee throughout employment
It is also a recruitment advice service for the business community. It will give employers access to a pool of potential employees with varying levels of skills, abilities and training.
Guide for potential employers of OWL graduates
- What is the OWL programme?
The Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) programme is an unpaid applied learning, development and socialisation programme for young adults with an intellectual disability. It was launched by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, T.D. in September 2018 on a pilot basis. The programme is based on the Supported Employment Model and aims to provide an applied learning experience to up to ten trainees in a busy work setting.
The programme is run by two sponsor organisations, WALK and KARE, two voluntary bodies that provide services and supports to adults with an intellectual disability. The programme is facilitated by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, which provides work experience places both on site and through sourcing work experience placements across other Civil Service organisations. The OWL programme is in its second year with placement sites in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The City of Dublin Education and Training Board is also involved in the programme and supports the trainees to achieve a Level 3 QQI qualification.
The overall aim of the programme is in line with the Comprehensive Employment Strategy 2015-2024 and seeks to provide work sampling opportunities and alternative approaches to work for people with disabilities, to support them to develop the skills which will lead them to access paid employment in the open labour market. It also seeks to support Civil Service departments to meet their disability employment quotas of 6% by 2024. Following the first year of the programme, the Public Appointments Service (PAS) and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform supported a confined recruitment competition for a number of clerical officer and catering positions. In September 2019, following participation in the confined recruitment competition, six trainees from the pilot programme commenced employment, two as clerical officers in PAS, two as clerical officers in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, and two as catering assistants in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.
- How does my organisation become a placement site for the OWL programme?
The Houses of the Oireachtas Service is actively seeking expressions of interest from Civil and public sector offices to participate in the OWL programme by providing recruitment opportunities for OWL graduates.
Find out more in our OWL programme Guide to Promoting Inclusive Employment: Supporting People With an Intellectual Disability.
- What are the benefits to becoming a placement site?
Promoting inclusion in employment benefits everyone and creates opportunities for all staff to gain new knowledge and skills.
- Increased employee engagement
- Increased sense of teamwork
- Social responsibility increased
- Increased diversity and improved morale
- Enhanced management experience
- Increased Health and Safety Awareness
- A greater understanding of disability
- Disability proofing of HR and recruitment practices
- A safe space to ask questions
- Additional advice and guidance on workplace supports and accommodations
- Continuous workplace learning
- Team building skills
- Workplace support, coaching and mentoring
- Increased confidence
- Workplace socialisation
- Support with reasonable accommodations, as required
- How long would I have to stay involved in the programme?
When placing graduates from the OWL programme it would be expected that the workplace would facilitate employees as permanent staff, following the standard one year probation for all staff.
- What is supported employment?
The OWL programme is an example of supported employment. According to the Irish Association of Supported Employment:
Supported employment is a system designed to support people with disabilities, and other marginalised groups, who want to be part of the workforce, to find and keep a job. At the same time, supported employment helps employers to fill vacancies and build diversity in their workforce by finding the right candidates to meet their individual needs.
- What is reasonable accommodation?
The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 oblige employers to make "reasonable accommodation" for people with disabilities. An employer must take "appropriate measures" to meet the needs of disabled people in the workforce. This means they must make arrangements that will enable a person who has a disability to:
- have equal opportunities when applying for work
- be treated the same as co-workers
- have equal opportunities for promotion
- undertake training
Reasonable accommodation, therefore, refers to modifications which would allow an employee with a disability to either continue or to take up a position to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Sometimes employers worry about the cost of making reasonable accommodations, but often they just require more flexible thinking, simple re-arrangements, or a different way of doing things e.g. changing working time and hours, review of tasks, retraining etc. These changes can also benefit everyone in the work environment.
- Who will support my department/team throughout the programme?
Training is provided to each department or section head in advance of the placement. The OWL coordinators or the employee's job coach are available on a daily basis to help troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
The job coach supports individuals throughout their journey in employment. Job coaches are responsible for identifying employment opportunities for individuals in line with their career goals and building lasting relationships with employers. Job coaches assess work opportunities in a location to identify suitable tasks, or tasks that an individual could progress to completing. This is called “job carving”. Job coaches support individuals in all aspects of their work life, including office social norms, and will fade out their supports as the individual becomes confident and able to work independently.
Before starting work
The job coach will support initial introductions with the employer and the employee in supported employment. They will work with the employer to identify suitable tasks and duties for the individual- this process is called job carving. After the tasks have been identified and an initial introduction is completed, a start date will be agreed and the job coach will work with the individual to prepare for work (travel training, managing time, having correct work attire).
Depending on the needs of the individual, the job coach may arrange with the employer to meet with the team and discuss any concerns or queries they may have. This can be done informally or as part of a disability awareness workshop, or both. The job coach will also spend some time shadowing the team (if appropriate) to learn the tasks and create any assistive resources or task analyses the employee may need for starting in work.
The job coach will attend with the employee on their first day and support any team introductions if required. The job coach will support the learning of new tasks over the initial few days or weeks depending on what is needed and will fade out as appropriate. The job coach is available to members of the team if they have any questions they may like to ask.
Once the job coach has faded out support. The job coach will agree with the line manager how often they will check in either by person or over the phone or email. The job coach will also suggest to the employer that they do sporadic onsite check ins. The job coach is available via phone and email should there be any major issues. The employee and manager or supervisor will have the contact details for the job coach. The job coach will come back to the workplace if required, e.g. if the employee needs to learn a new task or if they are struggling with a current task, or other issues that may arise in the workplace.