NOW Group names Lidl Northern Ireland ‘Academy Partner of the Year’

Social enterprise NOW Group has named Lidl Northern Ireland as its ‘Academy Partner of the Year’ in recognition of its work in supporting people with autism and learning difficulties into retail careers.

Just a year after the Belfast-based social enterprise teamed up with Lidl Northern Ireland to launch its pioneering Retail Skills Academy, the first of its kind with a local supermarket retailer, 12 participants have completed the groundbreaking employability programme, with half of graduates already securing permanent employment. Adding to its 1,300-strong regional workforce, Lidl Northern Ireland awarded two graduates with a permanent position at the region’s fastest-growing supermarket retailer.

The fresh partnership between NOW Group and Lidl Northern Ireland was announced last June as part of the retailer’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion after previously implementing a number of dedicated in-store customer initiatives including autism-friendly evenings and becoming Northern Ireland’s first JAM Card friendly supermarket in 2021.

NOW Group’s dedicated Skills Academies, launched in 2018, span a variety of sectors including Catering, Hospitality, Tourism, Cleaning, Digital, Warehousing and Business Administration. With the aim of meeting rising demand for jobs in these sectors, NOW Group Academies work to ensure participants have the chance to gain skills and employment, matching training needs to areas of high job opportunities.

Through the Retail Skills Academy, developed and designed by NOW Group in conjunction with Lidl Northern Ireland, students combine 15 weeks of classroom learning, which sees successful candidates graduate with GCSE-equivalent certification OCN NI Level 1 Award in Retail Business, with real world experience through in-store retail placements of up to 40 hours across the retailer’s network of 41 stores in Northern Ireland.

Sean Hanna, Director of Services at NOW Group, said: “After a fantastic first year working with Lidl Northern Ireland, we’re thrilled to confirm Lidl Northern Ireland as our Academy Partner of the Year 2024. The Retail Skills Academy is a pioneering initiative which supports participants as they gain hands-on experience and learn industry-specific skills, at the same time as encouraging independence, resilience and employability.

“Having partnered previously with Lidl Northern Ireland through our pioneering ‘Just A Minute’ (JAM) Card, which is used by people with learning disabilities and autism to allow others to know in a discreet way that they need some extra patience using shops, services and public transport, we are delighted by the early results, impact and feedback from our combined Skills Academy,” Sean Hanna said.

“As the region’s only certified Top Employer, Lidl Northern Ireland has proven itself through its Retail Skills Academy as a strong strategic partner in helping us deliver this progressive programme as we work to support people with autism and learning difficulties as they make their way into employment. We’d like to congratulate the team on their hard work and huge success in being named our Academy Partner of the Year 2024.”

Ivan Ryan, Lidl Northern Ireland Regional Managing Director, said: “As a certified Top Employer for the last four years running, accessibility and diversity are key cornerstones of Lidl Northern Ireland’s People Strategy. Our Retail Skills Academy has got off to a great start since our launch in June 2023, and we’re delighted to be named NOW Group’s Academy Partner of the Year.

“Our first 12 participants came through the programme with great results and we’re looking forward to building on our early success with more students in the months and years ahead.

“Lidl Northern Ireland is perfectly positioned to support academy students as they work towards a fulfilling career in the retail industry through best-in-class training and mentorship in an inclusive environment, and we’re looking forward to great things to come as our partnership with NOW Group and the Retail Skills Academy goes from strength to strength.”

Bonnie Shaw, from County Down, who took part in the programme and is currently working as a Customer Assistant in the Lidl Connswater store, said: “Getting involved in the Retail Skills Academy with support from Lidl Northern Ireland and NOW Group has been a fantastic experience. It’s helped to boost my confidence, develop my skills and encourage me to achieve more. I love coming to work, meeting with colleagues and helping all our local shoppers – the future is bright.”

In 2023, Lidl Northern Ireland was recognised as a Top Employer by the Top Employers Institute for the fourth year in a row. The only retailer in the region to receive the accreditation, Lidl Northern Ireland was recognised for its dedication to a better world of work, exhibited through excellent HR policies and people practices, particularly around diversity and inclusion.

Lidl Northern Ireland is the highest paying supermarket in the region, providing a range of additional benefits that includes paid maternity, paternity and fertility leave, while it was the first major local company to off compassionate leave for miscarriage and early pregnancy loss, as well as providing special support for those impacted by menopause.

For more information on working with Lidl Northern Ireland visit https://jobs.lidl-ni.co.uk/. For more information on the employability and training schemes available with the NOW Group, please visit www.nowgroup.org.

 

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