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Lidl and NOW Group launch new Retail Skills Academy to support people with learning difficulties

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Young girl with autism working in Lidl Northern Ireland

Top employer Lidl Northern Ireland and leading social enterprise NOW Group today launched a pioneering employability programme – the first of its kind with the supermarket retailer - to support people with learning difficulties and autism into a retail career.

The announcement is the latest move by the retailer in demonstrating its commitment to diversity and inclusion as part of its award-winning and globally recognised People Strategy. Lidl has also supported the autism community over the past number of years, having already implemented a number of dedicated in-store customer initiatives including autism-friendly evenings and becoming the first JAM Card friendly supermarket in Northern Ireland in 2021.

The newly launched Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCN NI) approved Retail Skills Academy with Lidl Northern Ireland will support NOW Group participants in “host” stores across the region, to gain new skills and on-the-job training with Northern Ireland’s fastest-growing supermarket retailer.

Launched in 2018, NOW Group’s dedicated Skills Academies span key industries including Tourism, Catering, Hospitality, Cleaning, Digital, Warehousing, and Business Administration, to meet growing demand for jobs in these sectors and to ensure participants have the opportunity to gain skills and employment in jobs for the future, matching training needs to areas of high job opportunities.

Combining theoretical classroom learning over 15 weeks, which sees successful candidates graduate with OCN NI Level 1 Award in Retail Business - an equivalent GCSE-level qualification - with real world experience provided by Lidl Northern Ireland, students will benefit from an in-store retail placement of up to 40 hours, across its network of 41 stores in Northern Ireland.

Sean Hanna, Director of Services at NOW Group, commented;

“The new Retail Skills Academy is a pioneering initiative which allows participants to experience a real working environment and gain knowledge of industry specific skills, whilst also encouraging their independence, resilience and enhancing employment opportunities.

“We’re delighted to expand our Skills Academy offering into the retail sector and to extend our existing partnership with Lidl Northern Ireland. As a certified Top Employer, Lidl Northern Ireland is an ideal strategic partner to help us deliver this first-of-its-kind programme to support more people living with autism and learning difficulties into a pathway to employment.

“Our dedicated Skills Academies are focused on providing our participants with training into jobs of the future, so we’re delighted to partner with a company which, as market leader, truly represents a dynamic industry with huge potential in terms of life-long careers and opportunity.”

Participants will benefit from access to a dedicated Lidl Northern Ireland mentor who will support their training and professional development. Students will also have the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills through in-store placements across customer service, health and safety, sales and merchandising, distribution and monitoring and problem-solving within retail business.

Conor Boyle, Regional Managing Director at Lidl Northern Ireland, said:

“As a certified Top Employer by the Top Employer’s Institute, and Business Eye’s Employer of the Year in Northern Ireland, we place accessibility and diversity at the heart of our People Strategy. I’m thrilled to launch this new Retail Skills Academy programme and build upon our established relationship with NOW Group to further support people living with autism and learning difficulties.

“We continually strive to create an exceptional place to work and to build a suite of industry-leading career development opportunities, and the new Retail Skills Academy further demonstrates our commitment to enabling equal employment opportunities for all.

“Lidl Northern Ireland is perfectly positioned to support academy students to thrive in this excitingand hugely rewarding industry by providing comprehensive on-the-ground training and mentoring in an inclusive environment. We’re excited to meet the students and see what fresh perspectives they will bring to our stores whilst supporting more people into employment within the retail industry.”

Lidl Northern Ireland’s latest, innovative employability programme announcement comes just a few months after the retailer confirmed the creation of 200 new local jobs and pay increases worth £3million for all employees.

Named Employer of the Year at the Business Eye Awards 2022 and a certified Top Employer for 2023 by the Top Employers Institute for the third year running, Lidl Northern Ireland has developed a number of industry-leading career development schemes including its Leadership Academy and Manager Development Programme.

For more information on Lidl Northern Ireland visit

For more information on the employability and training schemes available with the NOW Group, please visit

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