When one of our clients asked Deloitte to deliver and support an inclusion and equal opportunities training and skills initiative, we were confident that we could help create something with real impact.
In this case, our long-standing relationship with the Belfast-based NOW Group held the key. The social enterprise has years of experience in helping people with learning difficulties and autism to overcome barriers to education and employment.
Working together, we delivered an education and work placement programme focused on digital skills, tailored for people with learning difficulties and autism.
Growing from the successful pilot, plans are now underway for NOW Group to establish a Digital Academy which will take at least 50 people through digital skills training each year, with support from Deloitte.
A lot of people have seen their peers doing it and are now saying, “well, if he can do it, I can do it”.
CEO, NOW Group
Nobody knows better than NOW Group that, when it comes to inclusion and employment, what really matters is creating opportunities for everyone, and offering the right support.
“When we talk about digital inclusion,” said NOW’s CEO Maeve Monaghan MBE, “people with learning difficulties and autism have to be part of that.”
With a strong track record in training people with learning difficulties and autism to do jobs in retail, catering, and warehouse work, this project saw them branch out into digital skills for the first time, addressing an acute need in the process.
While the digital skills shortage is often a hot topic amongst employers, we rarely see people with learning difficulties and autism considered as part of the solution.
Only 6 per cent of adults with a learning difficulty in England, and 4.2 per cent in Scotland, who are known to their local authority are in paid work - and Maeve says a low percentage are in roles requiring digital expertise.
“Digital is part of everything,” continued Maeve. “Helpdesks, administration, entry-level coding and data analytics. There is a lot our participants can do - and do very well.”
Seeing a gap and addressing it
People from Deloitte's Belfast office have previously helped re-design NOW’s business model in response to COVID-19 and offered mentoring support.
“The collaborative relationship we have with NOW allowed us to deliver this initiative together,” said Mark Cree, a director at Deloitte.
“Sharing digital skills with NOW’s trainees is a brilliant way of making an impact in a new way – and ultimately to support more people into employment while addressing the digital-skills gap.”
Deloitte created the content and NOW recruited the people. Both agreed that keeping the numbers small would provide participants with a personalised learning experience, and an opportunity to receive appropriate pastoral care and attention.
Three of the four people selected for the course hadn’t thought of a job in digital before, so the goal was to develop or enhance their technical and interpersonal skills, and to build self-confidence.
Working virtually because of the pandemic, members of Deloitte’s data analytics team delivered digital skills training on key platforms and gave CV, presentation and interview skills advice.
Building practical business skills
The experience had a positive impact on those involved. James Erwin from Dromore also received wider training from NOW Group, which included finance skills and driving theory. As a result, new-found confidence and digital skills helped James to line up three interviews with local digital businesses.
“I really wanted to build more skills around IT and this was an excellent help,” said James.
“Joining NOW Group has been an excellent experience and has really helped me during lockdown.”
Sharing digital skills with NOW’s trainees is a brilliant way of making an impact in a new way – and ultimately to support more people into employment while addressing the digital-skills gap.
The success of the initiative means there is huge potential to scale up.
“We’re delighted that this initiative has paved the way for further cohorts,” said Muriel Tafts, relationship manager for Deloitte and NOW Group “and will support more people with learning difficulties and autism to become more employable and secure jobs with a future.
“We’re providing strategic advice on this exciting development and look forward to supporting its growth.”
For NOW’s Maeve, it represents an opportunity for business as well as those building their skills.
“Businesses need people at entry level,” she said “and we believe there are a lot of participants we work with who can add value.”
“There was perhaps a lack of confidence around digital amongst our user base. A belief that every job out there required a high-level qualification. A lot of people have seen their peers doing it and are now saying, “well, if he can do it, I can do it”.”