Store gets top Marks for helping people return to workplace

Eamonn Wynne

Eamonn Wynne

A Clonmel retail store has won praise for providing students of the National Learning Network with the opportunity to get back into the workplace.

Marks and Spencer is operating a programme to accept a different student on a work placement for one month in whatever area of the store in which the student wishes to work.

Their performance is reviewed halfway through and once the placement is completed the person is presented with a certificate and told if they’re suitable for employment with the company.

The programme has worked particularly well for one student. Fiona Martin from Ballingarry, who works for 20 hours a week as a customer assistant in the food hall, took up her position at the beginning of December and her contract has now been extended until March.

“Everybody has been really impressed with Fiona. She settled in very well from the start and has been a great asset to us”, said store manager Paul Dixon. So impressive has she been that her contract could even be extended beyond March and once M&S lifts its temporary ban on employing people permanently there’s every likelihood that she will be offered a permanent position, he added.

Based at Roseville on the Western Road in Clonmel, the National Learning Network (NLN) provides vocational training and employment opportunities for adults with additional support needs.

Instructor Rita McCormack-John said the programme was a wonderful opportunity for the NLN students.

“The placements are really professionally co-ordinated and it’s great to see a company such as Marks and Spencer giving something back to the community”, she says.

Students receive full induction and training like any other member of staff and are made to feel part of the team.

Rita said that M&S were one of the best employers they had worked with on a community integration project. The programme had also helped the company’s staff to become more disability-aware, she added.

The NLN is grateful to all employers who support the centre and have continued to support the students throughout these difficult times.

Fiona Martin said she was very happy working at the store. “Everybody is very helpful and supportive and easy to work with. The experience builds your confidence and you’re not treated as an exception. You’re treated the same as everyone else and you receive honest reviews of your performance”, she says.

Paul Dixon said that the programme, which gave people such as Fiona the chance to get back into the workplace, was one of the most rewarding aspects of his time in Clonmel.