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First Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) participants graduate from “life-changing” programme

25 Sep 2019, 12.30

The first participants in the ground-breaking Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) programme, graduated today, at an awards ceremony in Leinster House.

The Oireachtas Work Learning (OWL) programme is an applied Learning, Development and Socialisation programme for young adults with an intellectual disability. OWL, which was launched by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD last year is specifically tailored towards people with intellectual disabilities. The Houses of the Oireachtas is the first Parliament in the world to host a programme of its kind.

Seven of the new graduates have already secured part-time employment following their participation in the programme; four with the Houses of the Oireachtas Service, two with the Public Appointments Service and one in the private sector.  

Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD said: “Inclusive work programmes and opportunities are vital if we are to harness the talent of people from all sections of society and a diverse workplace benefits us all.

“During their time with us, the ten participants were placed across different offices throughout Leinster House, where they gained valuable experience in multiple areas. We in turn also learned from them. They each brought their own skills and experience and added greatly to the work that is done here every day. Their individual personalities and the determination they have already shown in their lives up to now served them well.”

The ten young people with intellectual disabilities commenced the OWL programme in September 2018 and all ten successfully completed the 11 month programme in July. They saw at first hand  a variety of Houses of the Oireachtas Service offices including Committees, Library and Research, Salaries, Catering, Finance and Superintendent’s, to gain valuable work experience.

The programme was launched as a pilot programme with two sponsor organisations, WALK and KARE, in September 2018 and is facilitated by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service by providing a workplace in which these adults can learn and develop their skills to be “work ready”.

WALK, Director of Services, Catherine Kelly and KARE Operations Manager, Peter Furlong said: “The OWL programme is an example of how effective collaborations can achieve huge outcomes for young people with intellectual disabilities and their families. The training programme supports these young people to learn the skills of employability in a safe and supportive environment.

It provides a bridge to the open labour market. The training programme is a blended experience of education, practical work, training and personal development.”

The first graduates of OWL are Andrew Graydon, Brendan Heade, Clare Nolan, Craig McEntee, Dale Cross, Daniel Carroll, Kenny Delahunt, Sarah McNulty, Michael Baldwin and Shane McGuirk.

The participants were each invited to attend today’s graduation ceremony, with their families to recognise their achievement and learning journeys. Each of the graduates present received a certificate from the Ceann Comhairle to mark their achievement.

Sarah McNulty has secured employment with the Public Appointments Service. Her mother Pamela said: “To say OWL has been life changing is no exaggeration.  First of all for Sarah, she has grown in independence, and confidence.  She has gained knowledge of work place etiquette, team work and lots of other essential skills, for her future work placements and life.  It was priceless for her to have a purpose to the day, and to be part of the workplace.

On the bigger scale of society, it has brought to the work place an awareness and understanding of the challenges some people face in their daily lives. It has highlighted how with support and commitment, everyone can contribute.  This new tolerance then goes beyond the office and out into society, which is wonderful.”

Andrew Graydon is one of four graduates to secure part time work in the Oireachtas following his successful completion of the programme. His mother Geraldine said: “Andrew got on the spot mentoring as part of his experience. He needed help with dealing with work situations and in understanding the culture of the working environment, things like being quiet, not interrupting, learning to listen and socialising in the workplace. If issues arose, he had a mentor who was on the spot to deal with the issue and help him and his work colleagues to deal with.”


The OWL programme maximises the opportunity for the participants to experience several areas of work learning in units in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and to undertake formalised training through the Dublin City Education and Training Board with the purpose of achieving a Level 3 QQI qualification.

DCETB Adult Literacy Organiser, Maria Riordan said: “The City of Dublin Education and Training Board is delighted to be part of the first Oireachtas Work Learning programme. All participants achieved a QQI Level 3 minor award in Work Experience and 4 participants received a QQI Level 3 minor award in Communications as part of the course.”

The staff of the CDETB Adult Education Service and especially the tutors on the OWL programme would like to congratulate all the participants on their achievements and to wish them well in their future.

Two full time, on site co-ordinators support the participants in their roles and work towards Quality and Qualification Ireland (QQI) qualification.


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(Images to follow, to picture desks)


Andrew Graydon, 29 has secured work in the Finance Unit of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service having successfully completed the OWL Programme.

His mother Geraldine said: “We heard about the Pathways to Work programme that WALK do and he applied for it. Andrew was with WALK for eight hours a week doing work experience in the accounts section when  the OWL programme came on stream and he got a place. I am eternally grateful to WALK and the Oireachtas for giving him this chance.

“It was the vital training he needed to give him the work experience he needed to get a job. He has a certificate as an accounting technician. He got that when he was 28, over four years at Blackrock Further Education Institute. For him to get a diploma he needs two years’ work experience. He started with the Finance Unit in the Oireachtas and stayed there the whole of the programme. He absolutely loved it.

“He went from not being able to travel at peaks times on the DART to using the DART every day, going in the morning at 8a.m. to coming home in the evening at 4.45p.m. He was totally motivated. He was there because he wanted to be there. To him it was training in the workplace. He needed that training to be able to get a job. They were supplied with a uniform, with a jacket and polo shirt too. He loved it and took great pride in wearing it.

“This programme was aimed at people with intellectual disabilities. So, he got on the spot mentoring as part of his work experience. Andrew is on the Autism Spectrum. He needed help with dealing with work situations and in understanding the culture of the working environment, things like being quiet, not interrupting, learning to listen and socialising in the workplace. If issues arose, he had a mentor who was on the spot to deal with the issue and help him and his work colleagues to deal with.

“That’s the beauty of OWL, it gives young adults like Andrew a chance to sample different jobs and training enhances their chances to keep a job.

“It was brilliant for his own self esteem. He was really, happy heading out every day. He felt like everyone else he had a real job.

“It does cost money to go to work. Andrew is in receipt of a disability allowance and he has a free travel pass; his lunches were subsidised and the fact that they had a uniform meant there was no extra cost on clothes. There were no real out of pocket expenses.  The objective of this program is to give individuals like Andrew an alternative pathway into paid employment.

“He made friends too, with participants, TDs and staff.  His social skills have improved immensely and that has come with being exposed.  It’s a work experience support programme. It’s really, very well done. The potential of the programme is huge, and it could be done in any organisation in Ireland.

“At the end of the programme he went for an interview for a job in the Oireachtas Service and he was successful, and he has been offered a position in the Finance Unit. He is over the moon.”

KARE and WALK, are two voluntary bodies that provide services and supports to adults with an intellectual disability. KARE was started in 1967 by parents and friends of children with an intellectual disability. KARE works with each individual who uses their service, and their families, to support them in developing their skills and abilities so that they can live the life of their choice. KARE supports individuals in all aspects of their daily lives including lifelong learning, living options, work and careers. KARE operates a Supported Employment Programme supporting people with intellectual disabilities to gain and maintain the job of their choice in the open labour market.


WALK’s mission is to be leaders in a movement for change, empowering people with disabilities to live self-determined lives in an equal and inclusive society. WALK has developed and piloted different innovative supported employment programmes aimed at increasing the rate of employment for people with intellectual disabilities.

To facilitate this learning experience, the programme takes place over three rotations with each participant moving from one section to another to apply the new skills learned. Two on site coordinators provided by WALK and KARE assist the participants on a full-time basis throughout the programme and engage in securing paid employment for the trainees. In addition, the participants benefit from coaching, mentoring and active learning, including the learning of social skills in the workplace as well as gaining confidence in a role.


The purpose of the programme is to assist the participants in becoming work ready through a “hands on” learning and development programme. Staff in the units with participants, are assisted by the two on-site coordinators. In advance of the commencement of the programme tasks that the participants can carry out are identified by the coordinators.  They also help staff to understand the needs and supports they can give the participants, and to understand their role in the development of the participant.


As this is a work learning programme, a multi-faceted approach to the learning process for the participant is taken. The participants engage with a wide range of learning interventions, attending formalised learning sessions each week, while informal training such as mentoring, and coaching is carried out daily. This approach to learning and development ensures that a wide range of learning abilities is catered for and maximises the number of learning opportunities.


Upon completion of the learning programme, the participants attend a graduation event to recognise their achievement and learning journeys.  As a learning programme, the OWL programme lends itself to a wide range of benefits, for the Service and the participant while promoting a more integrated and diverse working environment. The National Disability Authority (NDA) and the Government have committed to increasing, from 3% to 6%, the number of staff with a disability in all government departments by the end of 2024 and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and Commission also recognise the benefits of increasing diversity in the workplace. Under the Oireachtas Dignity and Respect Statement of Principles and Employment Equality Acts, the Service is committed to providing equal opportunities to individuals with intellectual disabilities, to help them engage in the workforce and to provide a work environment conducive to ongoing learning and development opportunities.


Following the successful completion of the first OWL programme the Commission at its meeting on 14th May 2019 approved the continuation and further development of the OWL programme. The Houses of the Oireachtas Service recognises the many benefits which have derived from this programme both for the participants and the staff of the Houses and are delighted that the  programme  will run for a second year. The programme is being further developed by working in partnership with other public sector bodies including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Public Appointments Service. Arising from this partnership approach the OWL programme will include a work learning placement in the adjacent Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine from September, 2019.  We are continuing to work with other Departments who also are interested in participating in the programme.