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Hats Off! Over 200 NOW Group Participants Graduate

Over 200 NOW Group participants from across Northern Ireland are celebrating this week after graduating from a range of bespoke training and employment academies.

Focused on supporting those with learning difficulties and autism into sustainable employment, this was the largest graduation ceremony in the NOW Group’s history with a total of 214 graduates receiving certificates for completing training in core industries including, employability, business administration, catering and hospitality and cyber security to name but a few.

Participants received their certificates on Wednesday (March 29th) during a special ceremony at Belfast City Hall, which was attended by Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Michelle Kelly, NOW Group Chair, John Gordon and NOW participants and their families.

Speaking about the event, Chief Executive of NOW Group, Maeve Monaghan said: “This is a significant day that hundreds of families across Northern Ireland have eagerly awaited, and we extend our heartfelt congratulations to all our graduates.

“Our training academies are dedicated to equipping participants with tangible skills and qualifications that will enable them to enter the workforce and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

“We are so proud of our graduates, and we look forward to supporting more individuals with disabilities in their journey towards fulfilling careers.”

With over 1,600 participants, NOW Group is proactively partnering with businesses to identify challenges in the recruitment marketplace and to provide solutions to individuals who face barriers when it comes to securing a job. One such business that has partnered with NOW Group is Citi, which since committing to becoming a JAM card friendly business in 2022 has had over 3300 colleagues successfully complete the training.

Leigh Meyer, site head of Citi in Belfast added: “Citi’s objectives and deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in all its forms, align with those of the NOW group. We engage with partners to support people to realise their full potential and provide an open, inclusive accessible workplace for all.

“Whilst we are proud of the success we have achieved to date we know we still have much to do in this area. We are committed to further developing programmes that will remove social inequality barriers, develop skills, improve employability, and target those with differing abilities to reduce the disproportionately high rate of economic inactivity in the sick and disabled community in Northern Ireland. I look forward to developing and deepening our relationship with the NOW group to support people with differing abilities into jobs with a future.”

Amongst the graduates were Darren Taggart and Christine Porter, who completed training academies in the retail and catering sectors respectively.

“Completing the retail academy has made such a difference to my life,” Darren said, who has gone on to secure a job with M&S in Carrickfergus. “Through the training academy, the NOW Group has given me an opportunity to develop the necessary skills in an industry that I’m truly passionate about and interested in – which is invaluable.

“I have learned all the practical skills I need to sustain a successful career and I’m really looking forward to joining the world of work and learning even more about the retail industry.”

Additionally, Christine is hoping to secure employment in the hospitality sector. She commented: “I’m very excited about the prospect of gaining employment in foodservice and hospitality. Completing the training academy has given me the confidence I needed to take the leap into full-time employment.

“I would urge anyone that’s thinking about signing up for a NOW Group academy to do it as soon as possible – it really has changed my life for the better and I’m really looking forward to what the future will hold.”

In 2023, NOW Group is aiming to support 200 people with learning difficulties into employment through various academies that are currently operating in the hospitality, tourism, ICT, horticulture, and cyber security industries.

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