The Digital Academy – NOW Group Partnership.

Launching the new digital academy are (from left) Megan McCleave, strategic partner champion at NOW Group; Steven Goldblatt, CEO Leaf; Hanna Mawhinney, NOW Group service development manager; and Gerard McStravick, head of digital transformation, data and operational excellence at Danske Bank


The NOW Group, which helps people with learning disabilities and autism get into the workforce, is launching a new digital inlusion programme to bridge the skills and diversity gap within the digital sector.

The programme, launched in October 2021, will serve as a digital learning centre, delivering qualifications in data analytics and providing participants  an opportunity to work within the digital sector through work placements, leading to progression pathways and employment. 

The first intake of the programme – the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland – will see 20 individuals with newro-diverse conditions take part in the 12-week academy, which is sponsored by us, Leaf and our friends at Danske Bank

Leaf CEO, Steven Goldblatt said: “We live in an increasingly neuro-diverse world with no real strategy about how to change with it, so we support the vision and work of the NOW Group and commit to sponsor this Digital Academy for years to come.

“If we can change the lives of adults with a learning difficulty or autism and help them into the world of work, then we will have made a real difference together.”

Gerard McStravick, head of automation and digital development at Danske Bank, says: “While the digital skills shortage and need for greater digital inclusion is a daily topic of conversation amongst employers, people with disabilities are rarely mentioned as part of the solution.

“We want to play our part in changing that and bringing more diverse skills into the workplace. We’re looking forward to engaging with all the participants through the academy and identifying suitable opportunities for work placements within the bank.”

The programme is being delivered virtually to allow participants from across the north access to the training, giving them an opportunity to gain insight, learn new skills and foster relationships with some of the leading names in the sector.

Maeve Monaghan, chief executive of NOW Group, added: “We know that businesses across Northern Ireland need staff with digital experience. Our academy is specifically targeting people with disabilities who don’t always feel that they fit in in mainstream provision but provide a valuable service in entry level digital positions.

“We work with businesses to help them understand the value of having a neuro-diverse workforce and the competitive advantages this brings, and are delighted Leaf IT and Danske Bank are funding the programme.”

Mark Huddleston, former UK Skills Commissioner and member of MATRIX panel, said: “The recent 10X Economy and 10X Skills strategy documents emphasise the importance of a digital spine in the Northern Ireland skills ecosystem and the need to build capacity and capability in new and emerging technology.

“The foresight and vision of NOW Group to develop a Digital Academy to widen participation and do this on a co-design basis with the sector is an exciting development. Social inclusion and utilising the full extent of our human capital is vital.

The benefits in creativity and computational thinking that neuro-diverse learners can bring to the tech-sector cannot be underestimated.”

Other partners on the programme include Kainos, Deloitte, Imperva, Fujitsu, Fibrus, AllState, Version 1 and Sentireal, who will offer placements, employment pathways and specialised professional skills workshops.

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