NOW Group, the social enterprise that supports people with learning disabilities and autism into jobs with a future, is launching a new digital inclusion programme to bridge the skills and diversity gap within the digital sector with the support of Danske Bank and Leaf IT.

Launching in October 2021, the first intake of the programme will see 20 individuals with neurodiverse conditions take part in the 12-week academy, which will be the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The programme will serve as a digital learning centre, delivering qualifications in data analytics and providing participants an opportunity to work within the digital sector through work placements, leading to progression pathways and employment.

Gerard McStravick, Head of Automation and Digital Development at Danske Bank, said: “As an employer that is committed to diversity and inclusion, Danske Bank is really proud to be co-sponsoring NOW Group’s Digital Skills Academy. We have a longstanding relationship with NOW Group, since becoming JAM Card friendly in 2018 and felt this was a perfect opportunity to actively help their service users to gain the skills needed to make the transition into digital careers.

“While the digital skills shortage and need for greater digital inclusion is a daily topic of conversation amongst employers, people with disabilities are rarely mentioned as part of the solution. We want to play our part in changing that and bringing more diverse skills into the workplace. We’re looking forward to engaging with all the participants through the Academy and identifying suitable opportunities for work placements within the bank.”

Steven Goldblatt, CEO of Leaf IT added: “We live in an increasingly neuro-diverse world with no real strategy about how to change with it. We support the vision and work of the NOW Group and will make a commitment to sponsor the Digital Academy for years to come. If we can change the lives of adults with a learning difficulty or autism and help them into the world of work, then we will have made a real difference together.”

The programme is being delivered virtually to allow participants from across Northern Ireland access to the training, giving them an incredible opportunity to gain insight, learn new skills and foster relationships with some of the leading names in the sector.

Maeve Monaghan, CEO of NOW Group, added: “We know that businesses across Northern Ireland need staff with digital experience. Our academy is specifically targeting people with disabilities who don’t always feel that they fit in in mainstream provision but provide a valuable service in entry level digital positions. NOW Group works with businesses to help them understand the value of having a neurodiverse workforce and the competitive advantages this brings. We are delighted that Leaf IT and Danske Bank are funding this important programme.”

Welcoming the initiative, Mark Huddleston, former UKCES Skills Commissioner and member of MATRIX panel adds: “The recent 10X Economy and 10X Skills strategy documents emphasise the importance of a digital spine in the NI skills ecosystem and the need to build capacity and capability in new and emerging technology. The foresight and vision of NOW Group to develop a Digital Academy to widen participation and do this on a co-design basis with the sector is an exciting development. Social inclusion and utilising the full extent of our human capital is vital. The benefits in creativity and computational thinking that neuro-diverse learners can bring to the tech-sector cannot be underestimated.”

Other partners on the programme include, Kainos, Deloitte, Imperva, Fujitsu, Fibrus, All State, Version 1 and Sentireal who will offer placements, employment pathways and specialised professional skills workshops.

For more information on the NOW Group Digital Academy and other NOW Group training opportunities please contact Hanna Mawhinney on 07884 330036.