Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Unpaid mentors support unemployed women in Mayo

Conor Hogan reports
Conor Hogan

By March of this year, there were 4,680 women on the live register in Mayo, up from 3,315 two years earlier. 

In fact, Mayo has the highest rural unemployment rate in the country with CSO figures showing the rate among women in the county has risen by over 40% in the  last two years.

“Many small businesses are making attempts at rationalising cuts,” Breda Murray of South West Mayo Development Company’s (SWMDC) told us, “and secretaries seem to be the first people they will lay off.”

This led the SWMDC to join up with Tacu Family Resource Centre (FRC) in Ballinrobe and Claremorris FRC to provide a support programme called ‘Revival’. It has been run twice, so far, and could become a blueprint for a national strategy if the course leaders make a successful case.

The aim is to improve people’s educational qualifications, as well as helping them to develop social skills – making a return to the labour market that bit easier.

It isn’t just women on the live register that are eligible, however, but the underemployed and unregistered too. Each woman on the course works one-on-one with a mentor who themselves is unpaid and values gaining experience.

“We hoped to get 30 people on the course," Ms Murray told us, "but had to accommodate nine more.”
Mentors received 2 days training.
Most of the mentors were working part-time, some being students, as well as two who were retired people.

Even though the work was unpaid, the 26 mentors - all women - were enthusiastic as our interview with Helena Deane shows.

Cost-effectiveness was a critical aspect in running the course.

Of the 40 women who previously took part in the Castlebar course, 14 have found employment (in pharmaceutical positions, supervisory positions, health care, retail and administration). 

Another 13 are now in full-time education and training, studying child care, social science, computing, IT and medical administration.

Considering the overall budget for the programme is €50,000, there is clearly a high return on this investment in women.

“It’s exceptional value for money,” said Breda. “We provide a nice venue, lunch for the mentors costing €8 a day, contribute towards mileage, provide rural transport to the participants, pay to train the mentors, the radio advertisement was €20 and we had to pay for postage stamps.

“Other than that the cost is virtually nil and I’m meeting colleagues to see if I can mainstream this programme for other target groups, and I’m looking to get the green light from the Rural Development Programme.”

Course participants earn two FETAC Level 3 certificates and in June Minister Frances Fitzgerald made the official presentations to the first women to complete the course.

The second Claremorris/Ballinrobe ‘Revival’ course started on October 27.

Only 54.5% of women are in the Irish workforce, compared to 73% of men.

Over the course of this year, the number of women on the live register in Ireland has risen by more than 3%, while for men the figure has fallen by 0.9%.

According to the UN’s recently published Human Development Index, only 54.5% of women are in the Irish workforce, compared to 73% of men.
For more information, contact Maeve Early on 094-93-66692.

Of course, SWMDC like all local development companies also support unemployed men.

For instance, in Claremorris, the company is currently running a course called ‘Where Now, What Next?’ which supports seven men at a time.

The participants attend a two-hour session each week for eight weeks that help them build on their educational qualifications and social skills among other things.

The course is funded under the Local and Community Development Programme. The company is also running a series of one-day ‘Reboot Your Career’ workshops.

And again through the LCDP it has funded the publication of an information directory and map for unemployed Castlebar people which was produced by the local Family Resource Centre. The directory is available in print and online through the company’s website: 

Helena helped three women develop confidence
Volunteers are mentoring unemployed people in Mayo, 


Each person on the ‘Revival’ course for unemployed women in Mayo works one-on-one with a mentor, who themselves is unpaid.

Helena Deane
“I became aware of the programme through an announcement in the Mayo Leader,” Helena Deane, a consultant at Business Connection Ireland, told us. “I had some start-up business mentoring experience.”

Helena mentored three women, the first wanted to get back into education, the second sought part-time work or to set up a business, while the third hoped to find full-time employment.

The main problem, Ms Deane found, was a lack of confidence.
“One of the women, even though she had a Masters degree, didn’t trust herself for the right jobs and was applying for things like shelf-stacking and tended to get rejected for being overqualified.

“I provided practical help with writing job applications, how best to highlight skills in your CV.

“With the woman who wanted to start up her own business, I drew up a business plan with her and, in the mean time, helped her find part-time work, which she is very happy with.”

Meanwhile, she found an accountancy course in Ballina for the woman seeking further education. The third lady, who wanted full-time employment, wasn’t as successful, as she had to return home to Poland for family reasons.

“We did get good feedback from her, though,” Deane said, “as she said that she had gained greatly in self-confidence.”

The minimum requirement for a mentor is a third-level degree in social science, after which they receive FETAC training for the course – free education. They then work 3-9 hours with the mentee, gaining valuable experience in their field and a reference.

The aim of the ‘Revival’ programme, therefore, isn’t just to support the 39 mentees to find employment, but also some of the mentors and there has been many enquiries from people wishing to become mentors.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people,” Deane concluded, “It was a pleasure to participate in the programme.”

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