After years working in the home, many women lose their confidence and find it hard to return to the workforce. But now a unique project in Kerry is making a real difference to these women with many securing work or returning to training or education. Mairead Lavery reports.
The Moving On project, which is operated by the North, East and West Kerry Development Co aims to get women back into the workforce. It’s specifically targeted at women who have been out of the workforce for a number of years and who now want to see what options are available to them but don’t have an idea where to begin. The project is unique and has proven to be hugely successful. So successful in fact, you would wonder why it hasn’t been replicated right across the country.
Perfect for women returning to the workforce
Established in 2017, Moving On is co-funded by the Irish government and the European Social Fund PEIL programme. Project coordinator Lisa Fingleton tells me the PEIL stands for Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning. “It’s a perfect course for women who have been out of the workforce for any length of time and who are not sure how to get back in. They have the skills and experience but confidence can be a big issue women and they need support to get going,” says Lisa.
Big numbers with third level education
In 2017 North, East and West Kerry Development Co applied for funding for Moving On and it was one of 23 successful projects from across the country to secure funding for programmes that had employability, inclusion and learning at their core. “There are 450,000 female homemakers in the country versus 9,200 male homemakers according to the last census. So the question we asked was what supports did these women need to return to the workforce. How can we meet the needs of such a broad spectrum of women, some who left school early and others who went as far as PHD level? (Could we delete this as we do offer one level 3 computer now and I wouldn’t like women to feel we weren’t valuing it) We were offering Level 3 and Lever 4 courses but that’s not what everyone needed,” says Lisa O’Flaherty, employment support worker for Moving On. “When we looked at our applicant list we saw 76% of them had post-secondary level education while over 50% were educated to degree level. We realised we had to offer very flexible support, acknowledging what the women wanted and what they could do. We work closely with our training partners, KETB and IT Tralee to do this. In addition 25% of the applicants described themselves as having a disability of some form. In some cases this is a physical disability but women also described overcoming depression and mental health challenges.”
Inflexible working hours a barrier
According to Lisa O’Flaherty one of the biggest barriers facing women who wish to return to the workplace is the lack of part time or flexible working hours. A massive 95% of the women on the course are looking for part time work or work with flexible hours. Remote working is also an option for many of our course members. Non-family friendly and inflexible workplaces means these employers lose out on a big pool of potentially excellent employees.” Interestingly, according to Lisa Fingleton when women come to interview for the 10 week course their main motivation is to get a job. “However as they get into it, they grow in confidence, and the social impact of the programme becomes equally important. So too does the sense of purpose of the women. It brings a light into their eyes.”
Of the 110 women who have completed Moving On to date, 52 are working while many others have returned to training or education. Work has been secured across 23 different areas including managing a charity, tutoring and teaching, cleaning, office administration and self-employment. “The response from employers has been fantastic. They are tapping into a huge resource of skilled workers. The women bring the necessary 21st century ‘new collar skills’ such as reliability, flexibility, team work and problem solving. Many women took time out to care for children or other family members and are now ready and committed to returning to work,” says Lisa O’Flaherty.
After inflexible working hours the second biggest barrier to securing or remaining in work is caring responsibilities,” says Lisa Fingleton. “This could be caring for a child, a sick parent or a child with special needs. Grandparents are being called on to care for their grandchildren and some have to leave the course to provide that family support.” With 40 women on current Moving On programme, one group was completing vision boards at Shanakill Family Resource Centre while another group was on a computer course at IT Tralee. Asked to describe how the vision board class went most of the women used colours to describe their reaction. I feel energised, bright pink It’s a time-out. It’s about me and what I want The vision board made me feel alive. I’m yellow, brighter, I need to plan my future I’m yellow too. It gives me hope Later in the morning I met with some of the Moving On group who had been hard at work at their computer course.
Tipperary woman Catriona Howard has been out of the workforce for a few years and is glad she took the chance and applied for Moving On. “I’m here thanks to a friend and four weeks into the course I’m delighted with how it’s going. It’s waking me up to all sorts of possibilities and I’m gaining skills. The computer course we are on lasts six weeks and covers Word, Power Point and Excel and we have an exam and presentation to look forward to.”
Moving On also appeals to mother of five Helen O’Connell who hails from Castleisland. “I’ve been out of the workplace for a few years now and while I’ve done a few courses, nothing really appealed to me. I heard Lisa O’Flaherty talking about Moving On on Radio Kerry and came along. I knew straight away it was perfect for me and I haven’t changed my mind.”
Tina Fallon from Listowel was on the first intake of Moving On back in 2017 and called in to say hello. “I’d been eight years out of the workforce as I was looking after my children. My background is in information technology and within a short time of starting with Moving On I was offered a job. Initially it was a maternity leave but it became fulltime. It was in an area I liked and I’m still happily in the same job.” “Moving On was a brilliant support and gave me the confidence to keep going. I nearly had a heart attack with CV and interview preparation. I’ll never forget the first morning when I had to walk up the middle of the room in front of the other course members. Despite appearances I had little confidence but I conquered that with Moving On.”
Like many of the women on Moving-on Mary Quirke from Tralee had been caring for her children for the past 13 years. With her youngest now aged 14 Mary was keen to re-join the work force. “I worked in accountancy and was good at it but it isn’t what I want to do now.” “Then I heard about Moving On on Radio Kerry and I knew it was perfect for me. In just four weeks I’ve found it highly motivating. Working in the home can be very isolating and this course gets women out of their comfort zones I really believe this course will help me find a career that suits me.”
Brenda Griffin has worked in many areas and currently is carer for her son who has special needs. She is keen to secure part time work and heard about Moving On through a friend. That friend has gone on to make her passion her career. “My friend is training to be a nail technician and she loves it. I have a business degree but it’s not my passion.
With the help of Moving-on I’ve discovered that I really love dress making and I want to teach it. I also love interior design, dressmaking design and alterations, classic curtain making and soft furnishings. With ‘The Tree of Life’ exercise that’s part of Moving On I became aware of the hidden skills I had but paid no attention to. Now these skills could be my new career.”
Supporting Women By Mairead Lavery, Country Living Magazine The Farmers Journal