3. Keeping persons with disabilities in employment and boosting their skills

Irish persons with disabilities exit the labour market much more often than their peers without disabilities. Between 2010 and 2015, persons with disabilities of working age were twice as likely to leave employment, even when accounting for their individual and job characteristics. Moreover, more than four in five persons with disabilities have worked at some point in their lives (Watson, Lawless and Bertrand Maître, 2017[1]). Lowering premature employment exit would therefore substantially improve the labour market position of persons with disabilities in Ireland.

This chapter proposes a comprehensive retention strategy that promotes continuous labour market activity in quality employment with possibilities for career progression. Retention here is understood as keeping persons with disabilities, whether it is an acquired disability or otherwise, in employment. The strategy has three pillars: (1) investing in skills by continuous learning for healthy careers; (2) widely available accommodation of work activity to allow workers to perform and advance on the job; and (3) prevention of health problems at the workplace and seamless return-to-work. All three pillars are of critical importance also for the hiring of persons with disabilities (Chapter 4).

Both persons with disabilities and employers would benefit from more successful retention in quality employment. For persons with disabilities, staying and advancing in quality employment firstly provides work and a stable source of income. Second, being in work facilitates continuous learning and engagement in society. Third, staying in work comes with health benefits. Panel analysis shows that mental health tends to worsen considerably when individuals exit employment, whereas mental health generally improves for those who become employed (Llena-Nozal, 2009[2]). For employers, employee retention and progress is important firstly to have continuous access to on-the-job knowledge and relationships acquired by their staff over time. Staff that can progress will generally be more engaged and motivated (OECD, 2018[3]). Second, retention reduces the need to invest in the recruitment and training of new workers. Third, lower rates of labour market exit broaden the pool of experienced and skilled workers that employers can hire from. Thus, retention and prevention of employment exit is the most efficient early intervention strategy.

Job-related skills are crucial for the performance of both firms and individuals in the labour market. An adequate skill set implies having both the level and the types of skills needed to perform the tasks that are demanded in the labour market. In a rapidly transforming world of work, this requires continuous skill investments (OECD, 2019[4]; 2019[5]; 2017[6]).

For employers, having a workforce equipped with the skills required for the jobs of today and those of tomorrow is vital. Employers benefit from a skilled workforce through increased productivity, higher employee retention rates, more engaged workers and enhanced relations between management and workers. Furthermore, having employees with the right skills is important for firm survival, development and innovation. A skilled workforce facilitates the implementation of new technologies and work practices, and skilled workers are more prepared to adapt to changes in the nature of work (OECD/ILO, 2017[7]; OECD, 2016[8]).

Individuals with the right skill set have better current and future employment possibilities. Skilled individuals are more often employed, earn higher wages, enjoy better working conditions and report on average greater job satisfaction. Skilled individuals also have better chances to progress in their careers and make the most of changes in the world of work. More broadly, having the right skill set facilitates social and economic inclusion (OECD/ILO, 2017[7]; OECD, 2019[4]; 2016[8]).

Job-related skill formation, i.e. acquiring skills that are likely to impact work performance and productivity, principally takes place in formal education and adult learning systems. This report only considers adult learning, broadly understood as all learning to upskill and reskill at all levels by adults who have left formal education, and does not look in great detail at the formal education system. Adult learning is sometimes referred to as lifelong learning. Adult learning comprises of i) formal adult training and education, which results in a formal qualification; ii) non-formal adult training and education, including structured on-the-job training, open and distance education, courses and private lessons, seminars and workshops; and iii) informal learning, including unstructured on-the-job learning, learning by doing or learning from colleagues. The analysis and recommendations in the report cover learning at all levels; not only basic skills training. In Ireland, the state agency SOLAS is responsible for formal adult training and education and funds many further education and training (FET) programmes (Box 3.1). This report does not cover formal education. While solid formal education is beyond the remit of this report, it is imperative for social inclusion and labour market performance. In particular, formal education lays the groundwork for skill formation, and affects the effectiveness of later skill investments (Heckman, Humphries and Veramendi, 2018[9]; Heckman, 2006[10]).1 Forthcoming analysis by the ESRI looks at gaps in educational attainment by disability in greater detail (ESRI, 2021[11]).

Governments have an important role to play to promote job-related skills formation, firstly because of efficiency arguments. Both employers and individuals may underinvest in adult training and education due to a lack of information, capacity and incentives. Employers and individuals may not be well informed about the benefits, availability and quality of training, as well as which skills to invest in. Employers, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, can have limited capacity to plan, fund and deliver training. More generally, employers may underinvest in skills out of concern for poaching, i.e. losing trained workers to other employers. Individuals on their end may face barriers to training participation, including a lack of time, financial resources, the possibility to learn on-the-job and employer support.

Secondly, governments can support individuals in their skill formation out of equity considerations. In a changing world of work, increasing everyone’s engagement in adult learning is key to sustained labour market participation. Having insufficient skills can aggravate labour market inequalities that groups such as low-skilled workers, high-school dropouts and long-term unemployed are experiencing (OECD, 2019[5]).

The importance of skills is pressing in Ireland. Skill demands are high, given the knowledge-intensive focus of the Irish economy and its active strategy to attract foreign direct investment (OECD, 2020[12]). Ireland is, after Finland, the OECD country with critical shortages in the largest number of types of skills (23 out of 35), including in content skills (e.g. reading comprehension, writing), process skills (e.g. critical thinking and active learning), complex problem solving skills and social skills (e.g. co-ordination and negotiation) (OECD, 2017[6]). Survey results among 300 companies in February and March 2021 underscore these findings. Two in five firms express the need to upskill their staff. One in four emphasises that this need has become more pressing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Over half the companies indicated that their company struggled to fill a skills gap over the past 12 months (Dublin Chamber, 2021[13]).

Persons with disabilities have less access to basic digital tools, lower digital literacy and participate less frequently in adult learning and apprenticeships – in addition to often leaving the education system with a low level of initial education, as discussed in Chapter 2.

While information on IT skills by disability status is unavailable, evidence shows that Irish persons with disabilities regularly do not have the tools and experience to utilise basic digital and communication technology to navigate and solve problems in their everyday life and work. Technology-intensive, abstract and soft skills are becoming increasingly more important as a consequence of automation and globalisation (Thewissen and Rueda, 2019[19]; Thewissen, van Vliet and Wang, 2017[20]; OECD, 2017[6]). About three times as many persons with disabilities do not have a computer in their household or have access to internet for personal use when needed on average across OECD countries (Figure 3.1). About 6% cite affordability as the principal reason for not having access to these tools; three times the share of persons without disabilities. The situation is even worse in Ireland for persons with disabilities. A larger share does not have a computer or internet, the gap with their peers without disabilities is higher and around 10% lack access because of affordability reasons. Age and education cannot fully explain the digital gap. Accounting for these factors reduces the gap by about a third to around 7 percentage points across the OECD on average and 10 percentage points in Ireland.2

Even those who have access to basic digital tools are less digitally literate. Fewer persons with disabilities have been online – 70% compared to over 90% for persons without disabilities (Figure 3.2 Panel A) – and among those who have been online, fewer have used online facilities for public administration, banking, shopping or found a job online (Figure 3.2 Panel B). The disability digital literacy gap remains significant when adjusting for age and education pooled across countries – in the case of finding a job online when restricting the sample to the group of non-employed. There is no indication that these relationships are significantly different for Ireland.

Moreover, Irish persons with disabilities rarely participate in adult learning. Participation engagement in general is low and persons with disabilities face a substantial adult learning participation gap. Only about one in 13 Irish with disabilities was engaged in adult learning, compared to one in five on average across OECD countries and one in three for instance in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden (Figure 3.3, Panel A). Persons with disabilities face a participation gap of 10-15 percentage points in most OECD countries, including in Ireland. Age and education can only explain half of this gap.3 Many low-educated Irish wanting to participate in education and training mention health or age as main reason for not participating (Figure 3.3, Panel B).4

Further education and training (FET) enrolment data from SOLAS for 2019 suggest that persons with disabilities in further education and training provision in Ireland may be underrepresented. The SOLAS data are collected from the registration form that all learners complete before starting any provision in further education and training. It is not compulsory to provide this information and it is a self-declaration. This group is broader than the group of persons with disabilities, as no question is asked whether the lasting health problem limits their daily activities.5 On the other hand, it may be that learners do not disclose whether they have a lasting health problem, which would lead to underestimation of their participation. Keeping those data limitations in mind, 7% of all FET learners who enrolled in a programme funded by SOLAS had a lasting health problem in 2019 (13 098 in total) (Figure 3.3, Panel C). About 6% of the working age population with no lasting health problem enrolled in FET funded by SOLAS, compared to 4% of those with one lasting health problem and 2% of those with two or more lasting health problems (Figure 3.3, Panel D). Learning enrolment rates are low across all types of health problems. Those with an intellectual disability or difficulty with learning, remembering or concentrating participate somewhat more often than those with physical health problems (Figure 3.3, Panel E) (Dulee-Kinsolving and Guerin, 2020[21]; Dulee-Kinsolving and Guerin, 2020[22]).

Adult learning participation rates are particularly low among non-employed Irish with disabilities, as further discussed in Chapter 4. The lower levels of education, skills and adult learning participation rates act as a major impediment to the labour force participation of persons with disabilities. Findings from surveys among employers and persons with disabilities in the United States corroborate the importance of education and skills for employment. The three most often barriers to employment for persons with disabilities listed by HR staff in the United States all relate to skills: a lack of qualified applicants (51%), lack of relevant experience (36%) and a lack of requisite skills and training (30%) (Erickson et al., 2014[23]). American jobseekers with disabilities in a large representative sample most often mentioned not having enough education or training as an employment barrier (41%). Only 39% were able to overcome this barrier (Sundar et al., 2018[24]).

The Irish adult learning system lacks inclusion even among employees.6 Participation gaps for formal training provided for, or paid by, the employer are particularly large. In Ireland, employees with disabilities, youth, older employees, mothers with a young child and foreign-born take part substantially less often than prime-age males in formal training by the employer (Figure 3.4, Panel A). Gaps are larger in Ireland than on average across the OECD, except for foreign-born. Employees with disabilities are also substantially less involved in on-the-job training in Ireland (Figure 3.4, Panel B). Taking into account employee characteristics (education, age and gender), job characteristics (occupation, working part-time, type of contract) and firm characteristics (sector and firm size), Irish employees with disabilities participate around 15-17 percentage points less often in adult learning. This disability participation gap in Ireland is the highest among all OECD countries. Irish employees with disabilities seem to find themselves caught in a low-skills trap, where their weaker labour market position and lower initial skills level prevents them from developing further through education and training (OECD, 2019[25]).

Compared to other OECD countries, apprenticeships are a less frequently used adult learning pathway in Ireland among the entire population and in particular among persons with disabilities (Figure 3.5). Apprenticeships combine both on and off-the-job training with the goal of better connecting youth to labour market opportunities.

A diverse body of research indicates that completing an apprenticeship can improve overall labour market outcomes for young people. Young people with apprenticeship experience tend to have higher average rates of employment than the national average and higher wages (OECD, 2018[26]). They also tend to have below average repeated periods of unemployment than students who have graduated from a more school-based system. The successful completion of apprenticeship can ease the path into employment for young people, even if they do not find employment with the firm that provided the training place (Quintini and Manfredi, 2009[27]).

More broadly, the work-based training component of apprenticeships provides young people with the chance to develop job-ready “soft” or generic skills that are as relevant as technical vocational competences. Skills like problem solving, conflict management and entrepreneurship are more effectively developed in workplaces than in off-the-job situations like classrooms or simulated work environments (OECD, 2010[28]).

Despite these potential benefits, few Irish persons take on apprenticeships, and rates are lower still among youth with disabilities. Among the 16-25 year-old population, Ireland had about 2% of students enrolled in apprenticeships in 2012, which was substantially behind leading OECD countries, such as Germany (33%), Austria (33%), Australia (22%), and Denmark (18%). More recent figures for Ireland show the number of apprentices has risen from about 3 000 in 2012 to up to 17 000 in 2020. Furthermore, apprenticeships in Ireland are currently almost exclusively a training pathway for young men without disabilities. In 2020, persons with health problems represented 3% of the apprentice population, and only 5% of apprentices were women; up from 2% in 2018 (SOLAS, 2018[29]).

A comprehensive policy agenda is needed to invest in the skills of persons with disabilities in Ireland, built around the following five principles:

  1. 1. Build a universally accessible and flexible adult learning system

  2. 2. Reach out proactively to potential learners and provide clear guidance

  3. 3. Make adult learning relevant for employment

  4. 4. Build capacity of employers to train for a changing world of work

  5. 5. Tackle time and financial barriers

Employers have a key role to play throughout all five principles.

The formal education and adult learning sector needs to be configured to meet the needs of all. Formal education and adult learning should be based on a philosophy to be as universal as possible. Persons with additional needs should participate as much as possible in the same class or school as persons without additional needs. Such a strategy is effective to get the basic system right for everyone, including for persons with disabilities in the open labour market, it helps to prevent segregation and stigmatisation and it minimises the necessity for persons to disclose their additional needs. Moreover, a universally accessible and flexible adult learning system aligns with the obligations to leave no one behind and to drop any stigmatising labels assigned to learners, as defined under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A universally accessible system that meets the needs of all consists of a number of elements.

First, formal education and adult learning system should be built on Universal Design principles from the outset. The system should be designed in such a way that (almost) everyone can access, understand and benefit from it, irrespective of their needs or ability (Story, Mueller and Mace, 1998[31]). The Irish adult learning system is not yet built on a Universal Design approach, though Ireland has taken a frontrunner position in advancing towards such a system in adult learning. The Irish Government has underscored its ambition for a formal education and adult learning system based on Universal Design in its National Planning Framework for Project Ireland 2040 (Government of Ireland, 2018[32]). The independent non-profit organisation AHEAD that aims to create inclusive education and learning environments has published a conceptual framework of Universal Design for formal education and adult learning, commissioned by SOLAS (Quirke and McCarty, 2020[33]). AHEAD has recently published concrete guidelines for adult learning providers to implement Universal Design, which were written in consultation with stakeholders (AHEAD, 2021[34]). The NDA’s Centre for Excellence in Universal Design was heavily involved in the design of these guidelines.

Second, all adults should have access to adult learning, as everyone is a potential learner. Facilitating access for unemployed and inactive persons deserves particular attention, given their low adult learning participation rates (see also Chapter 4). Enrolment in adult learning should not affect benefit entitlement. Adult learning systems should ensure clarity around the availability of benefits while enrolling in adult learning (Mooney and O’Rourke, 2017[17]). In Ireland, illness and disability benefit recipients face administrative hurdles to enrol in adult learning. Disability Allowance recipients have to inform social welfare. Their benefit is suspended; instead, they receive a FET training allowance of the same amount (see also Chapter 4). Since March 2021, PhD students can continue to claim Disability Allowance (the so-called “Catherine’s law”) when they are on a bursary or scholarship of up to EUR 20 000 per year for a maximum of four years. Illness Benefit and Invalidity Pension recipients have to apply for an exemption from the Department of Social Protection authorising them to do the FET course.

Third, a universally accessible system necessitates active engagement and awareness of adult learning providers and teachers. Providers and teachers should view it as their responsibility and be able to instruct as many learners in the classroom as possible and to help identify learners in need of further accommodation. For this, providers and teachers should have access to authoritative and accessible guidelines how to identify and support learners with disabilities. These guidelines should go beyond compliance requirements and promote best practices. Such guidance was until very recently lacking in Ireland, despite the existence of a significant body of legislation and case law (ETBI, 2018[35]). This helps to explain why an evaluation of the Irish adult learning system found that “[…] colleges are unable to offer support because many do not believe that it is part of their role to provide education and training to people with intellectual disabilities. Lack of knowledge and familiarity […] contributed significantly to this resistance” (WALK, 2015[36]). AHEAD has recently published concrete guidelines for adult learning providers to implement Universal Design (AHEAD, 2021[34]). Furthermore, knowledge on mental and physical health should be part of the teacher curriculum. The Irish 2020-24 FET Strategy acknowledges raising knowledge and awareness among trainers as a policy priority, but does not propose specific measures or measurable targets (SOLAS, 2020[18]). The Irish professional association for principals in adult learning (Further Education and Training Colleges Ireland, FETCI) agrees with the importance of inclusion, writing that “[p]lacing the diversity of students and their complex range of vulnerabilities in the mainstream of FET provision, rather than as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ after the fact, is of great importance to FETCI”. Again, however, it does not propose specific measures to improve competences of teaching staff to promote inclusion (FETCI, 2021[37]).

Fourth, the adult learning system should be held accountable for inclusion, by organising clear budget lines to resource the provision of supports to learners with disabilities and by implementing institutional targets and incentives that discourage separation. Adult learning providers should be able to access dedicated budget for support. Moreover, the budget should promote inclusion, individualised and flexible learning provision with resources available on a timely basis. The Irish Fund for Students with Disabilities currently only provides extra funding for institutions to support learners with disabilities in full-time courses of at least one year in duration.7 Part-time programmes such as the Back to Education Initiative, Community Education or adult literacy do not receive additional funding. Furthermore, the application process is administratively burdensome and schools only receive funding well into the academic year (ETBI, 2018[35]). These reasons help explain why only 13% of students covered by this Fund were adult learners (Higher Education Authority, 2017[38]). The strong efforts of SOLAS to track participation of persons with disabilities in further education and training help to hold the FET system accountable for inclusion.

Fifth, the adult learning system should accommodate individualised learning pathways by means of widely available flexibility in content and provision. Widely available accommodation reduces the need for learners to disclose their preferences and constraints, including health problems. Many learners, such as persons with disabilities, migrants and older persons can benefit from access to simplified language course material. Equally, many learners including those with disabilities and with family commitments would gain from possibilities for part-time enrolment and distance, blended and modular courses to shape their own learning path in their own time and place (Kis and Windisch, 2018[39]). Distance learning can be particularly helpful for learners for whom it is physically or mentally more demanding to come to a learning facility at a set hour. Blended courses that combine face-to-face and distance learning are particularly promising, as they still allow learners to benefit from direct contact with teachers and classmates to improve both technical knowledge and social skills (McGinty, 2018[40]). Modular learning provides flexibility by allowing individuals to work towards a full qualification over time by successively adding self-contained modules to their learning portfolio, in contrast to traditional learning programmes that require full completion to gain a qualification (OECD, 2019[25]). The Irish 2020-24 FET Strategy recognises the importance of moving towards a system with individualised learning pathways and widely available accommodation (SOLAS, 2020[18]). Promising examples to learn from come from the almost fully modular adult learning system of Flanders (Belgium) and Denmark. Blended course providers receive extra government funding in Flanders (Box 3.2).

Sixth, learners need to have access to proactive and continuous support. As many learners do not disclose constraints they may have, there would be merit in implementing a standardised process that screens all learners at point of entry to identify any additional needs. Dedicated and knowledgeable access officers should be responsible for accommodation at entry, for continuous one-stop shop assistance throughout the adult learning programme and for support towards work placement and sustainable employment upon completion (ETBI, 2018[35]). A promising example of screening comes from the Technological University Dublin (Box 3.2).

An important reason why many groups facing a labour market disadvantage participate less often in training is that they find it more difficult to recognise their learning needs and enquire less often into training opportunities. On average, only 12% of adults with low skills looked for learning opportunities compared to 36% of adults with high skills, according to the 2016 Adult Education Survey (OECD, 2019[25]). Reaching out proactively to these groups using existing relationships can help them connect with adult learning.

Benefit recipients, including persons receiving disability benefits or unemployed persons with health problems, are in contact with public authorities. These public authorities can proactively reach out to promote adult learning and provide guidance. Ideally, reaching out and providing support would all be done by a one-stop shop, such as the public employment services (PES). The Dutch PES, for example, actively approaches disability benefit recipients to promote training as part of their re-integration, with promising results (Box 3.3). Ireland does not actively reach out to disability benefit recipients to promote learning facilities. Instead, benefit recipients willing to learn have to contact authorities themselves, which rarely happens. The Phase Two Action Plan 2019-21 of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy contains the action to write an implementation and communication plan to improve early engagement with persons with disabilities by the Irish PES (as discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4).

Outreach through the workplace can be effective in engaging employees with low-skills, as the workplace is one of the key places were individuals identify their training needs and take part in training opportunities. Trade unions can provide a bridging function to help employees voice their training needs to their employers. The British TUC Unionlearn programme trains Union Learning Representatives (ULRs), who help workers identify training needs and arrange learning opportunities within their companies. Independent evaluations show promising results, including for persons with disabilities (Box 3.3). In the United Kingdom, as well as in for instance Norway, about one in four firms with at least ten employees involve staff representatives in setting joint training objectives and establishing criteria for the selection of participants and target groups according to Continuing Vocational Training Survey data for 2015. In Ireland, only about one in ten firms applies such practices. An interesting example is Skillnet, a business support agency of the Irish Government. The programme incentivises firms in the same sector or region to join forces to deliver adult learning, by combining government grants with training levies. It is governed by a tripartite board and provides training for jobseekers as well. It currently consists of 70 business networks, covering more than 18 000 employers. It provided training to about 70 000 people in 2020. However, in its Statement of Strategy 2021-25, it does not make any reference to inclusion (Skillnet, 2021[43]).

Interest groups from the disability sector can also facilitate a pathway to re-engage persons with education and adult learning. Interest groups have the added advantage of being aware of the diverse needs and circumstances of their cohorts. The Irish Government is actively engaging with persons with disabilities and their interest groups, as part of its Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-25 that actively targets persons with disabilities (Government of Ireland, 2020[44]). For instance, the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-25 includes the key deliverable to include the voice of underrepresented cohorts in apprenticeship (DFHERIS, 2021[15]). Furthermore, multiple Irish disability interest groups help organise trainings, including WALK, the National Learning Network (NLN) and the National Autism Charity AslAm. WALK provides training in local community colleges, training centres and universities, and supports and organises training in the workplace. WALK reaches out to young disability benefit recipients in its Providing Equal Employment Routes (PEER) programme using its own network to stimulate and support them to access education and training, and obtain work experience (Box 3.3).

Many countries also use awareness campaigns to reach potential learners, although there is little evidence that such campaigns are successful. The German campaign Nur Mut – Der nächste Schritt lohnt sich. Besser lesen und schreiben lernen, aimed to engage adults with low-literacy skills by means of TV and radio advertisements and posters. The evaluation noted that it raised overall awareness of the importance of literacy, but was not effective in reaching the target group itself. The Portuguese New Opportunities Initiative campaign suffered from similar problems (OECD, 2019[25]). It seems unlikely that broad campaigns will work better to engage persons with disabilities, as they may face additional learning barriers and require more personalised support.

Professional career guidance facilitates effective learning and employment by identifying suitable new job opportunities and proposing relevant training in a constantly evolving labour market. Such services are particularly important for persons facing labour market disadvantage, as they are in more need for training, may be less aware of promising training avenues and may choose less demanding training as they are more risk-adverse or lack confidence (Klein, Iannelli and Smyth, 2016[45]). Nevertheless, low-educated and older individuals – two groups which include a large number of persons with disabilities – are much less likely than their counterparts to use career guidance (OECD, 2021[46]). Ireland can promote the inclusion of its career guidance services by making sure that career guidance is accessible to all. This includes the implementation of a user-friendly centralised career guidance portal built on Universal Design principles that provides personalised labour market intelligence (Indecon, 2019[47]). An interesting example comes from France, where the one-stop shop Conseil en Evaluation Professionnel offers free and personalised advice to anyone wishing to receive information and career guidance (Box 3.3).

European survey evidence shows that a lack of motivation is the principal reason for persons not to engage in adult learning. About three-quarters of adults not participating in training were not interested to participate, with even slightly higher rates for low-educated adults, on average across OECD countries as well as in Ireland according to Adult Education Survey data for 2016. Persons with disabilities may face additional motivational barriers, such as a lack of self-esteem and confidence about one’s ability to acquire skills, which is compounded by more often being far removed from the labour market (McGinty, 2018[40]).

A first step to reduce motivational barriers is to provide a generous offer of high-quality learning possibilities to improve basic skills. Improving basic skills is all the more important for persons with disabilities who often enter the labour market with an educational disadvantage. Irish adult learners with lasting health problems more often enrol in lower level and generic courses, such as employability skills and language courses (Figure 3.6).

Second, adult learning provision should be practical and problem-oriented. Currently, large parts of adult learning still take place in a classroom setting with school-type learning styles. This approach is especially problematic for persons with disabilities, as many of them have experienced challenges in education and may find it difficult to return to such a setting (OECD, 2019[25]). Moreover, classroom-type learning is less effective for acquiring soft skills (Musset, 2018[53]). One possibility is to promote embedding of adult learning in the workplace for persons already employed, such as the SkillsPlus programme in Norway (Box 3.4). A second possibility is to make learning in schools and training facilities more practical. This is all the more important now during COVID-19 when fewer firms provide work-based learning opportunities. Governments can provide guidance and teaching resources to support the adaptation of curricula, train teachers to equip them with practical learning skills and promote the engagement of social partners in the redesign and implementation of adjusted school-based programmes. Countries such as Denmark and Norway already provide alternative school-based vocational training and education (OECD, 2021[54]).

A third step is to ensure that learning opportunities equip workers with the skills needed for the labour market. While the share of employees in Ireland thinking that training helped them to achieve positive employment outcomes is above OECD average, still only about two in three think that training helped to have a more secure job or better prospects of future employment (Figure 3.7, Panel A). Employees with disabilities are on average across OECD countries much less optimistic about the effectiveness of training participation, even when taking into account their labour market position (Figure 3.7, Panel B). The low number of observations does not allow for a breakdown by country, but there is no indication that trends are significantly different for Ireland. Innovation is needed to make adult learning more interesting and relevant for employment for persons with disabilities.

Promoting digital skills deserves particular attention. Digital skills are more and more important in a constantly changing world of work and are a prerequisite for participating in online and distance learning as well as working from home as accelerated through COVID-19 (SOLAS, 2021[55]). Moreover, as shown by SOLAS research, the impact of automation is likely much lower for those working in sectors where strong digital skills are more often required, such as ICT, science and engineering (SOLAS, 2020[56]). Relatively few Irish further education and training learners were enrolled in ICT courses in 2019 (5%) – this was even lower among learners with disabilities (4%). The Spanish foundation ONCE, for example, developed multiple inclusive training programmes focusing on digital skills (Box 1.4) (ILO & ONCE, 2021[57]). SOLAS is currently developing a 10-year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy for Ireland in collaboration with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The strategy is expected to be brought to Government for consideration before Summer 2021. The aim of this new strategy will be to ensure that everyone has the literacy, numeracy and digital literacy to meet their needs and participate fully in society.

Employers have a key role to play in creating relevant learning opportunities that align with skill needs. Employers, together with trade unions, can help to establish joint priorities in adult learning and anticipate training needs. Social partners and governments come together in skills or sectoral councils to play such a role in many countries. Social partners in Ireland only have a consulting role, whereas in many other OECD countries they contribute directly to curriculum development or even manage parts of the adult learning system (OECD, 2019[58]). In Korea for instance, social partners help set training standards (Box 1.4). Better engaging with employers to align with skill needs would likely help reducing Ireland’s very high skills mismatch, in terms of both qualification and field of study (Figure 3.8). Almost half of the Irish workforce either has a lower or higher level of qualification than generally required for the job. About two in five Irish workers are trained in a particular field, but work in another. SOLAS has conducted further research on skills mismatches among clerical support workers, finding that almost half among this group were overqualified (SOLAS, 2021[59]).

Apprenticeships are currently still an under-utilised training pathway in Ireland to connect youth with disabilities to jobs by providing relevant on-the-job training. Apprenticeships help tackle barriers in the transition from school to work, and are therefore an early intervention policy measure to prevent labour market exclusion and accumulation of disadvantages over the life course. Irish youth affected by disability since childhood (about 30% of working-age people with disabilities) currently experiences challenges in terms of maximising their educational achievement and moving into the first job (Watson, Lawless and Bertrand Maître, 2017[1]). Almost one in five Irish youth with disabilities drops out of school, a rate three times as high as among youth without disabilities. About one in four youth with disabilities is not in education, employment or training (NEET), compared to one in ten for their peers without disabilities.8

Ireland should set ambitious targets in order to increase the number of apprentices as well as improve inclusion. Its Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-25 is a welcome step in that direction. Evidence from other countries shows that apprenticeships work well if they are attractive to both apprentices and employers, if skills reflect labour market relevance and if young people can make informed choices what apprenticeship to opt for. Important factors to make apprenticeships work for youth at risk, such as those with disabilities, are the establishment of employer support how to put in place effective training and apprentice support to prevent drop-out (OECD, 2018[26]). In its apprenticeship system, currently no formal needs assessment takes place when apprentices declare a disability when registering with the Education and Training Board. Sustainable employer advice in relation to hiring persons with disabilities is lacking (SOLAS, 2018[29]). The impact of targeted pathways seems low. The Youth Employment Support Scheme (YESS), a work experience placement programme for youth facing barriers to employment, only delivered to 19 persons with disabilities between 2018-20. About 200 enrolled in the Willing Able Mentoring work placement programme, which targets graduates with disabilities between 2015-18. The Irish Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-25 has inclusion as one of its key objectives. It proposes to improve flexibility, better track performance of underrepresented groups and improve information provision to employers and prospective apprentices on existing supports through a direct resource page, consortia information to employers and by reflecting positive experiences in promoting apprenticeship (DFHERIS, 2021[15]). Examples from the United States can provide input to render these targeted pathways more effective (Box 1.4).

While employers play a key role in providing training, underinvestment is common. Many companies do not necessarily know what skills to invest in or how to develop an appropriate training offer. Capacity is particularly a concern for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In Ireland, only one in three SMEs offers training to at least half of its workforce, compared to more than half of large firms, according to 2015 firm data from the Continuing Vocational Training Survey. Many governments therefore provide targeted coaching for companies to help them identify their skills needs and relevant training opportunities, and provide financial incentives for SMEs. An example of such a programme come from Finland (Box 3.5).

Promoting an inclusive learning culture deserves particular attention. Not only do employees with disabilities participate less often in employer-provided and on-the-job training, as discussed above, but they also indicate being less supported by their employers in their personal development. Employees with disabilities state less often that their boss provides useful feedback on their work (Figure 3.9, Panel A). Employees with disabilities also state less often that their boss encourages or supports their development (Figure 3.9, Panel B). British Unionlearn participants with disabilities report more often a lack of managerial support (22% vs. 16%) and managers not allowing for time off for learning (25% vs. 17%) as major barriers for training (Stuart et al., 2016[50]).9 On average across OECD countries, 12% of employees indicate that they asked their employer for training but did not receive it. For persons with disabilities, this number is about a quarter higher, even when accounting for their labour market position.10

Promoting the better use of skills through dissemination of high-performance working practices (HPWPs) within firms could lead to improved job quality and productivity for Irish workers. Better using skills in the workplace concerns the extent to which skills are effectively applied in the workplace to maximise workplace and individual performance. There is considerable diversity to the degree to which employers value and utilise the skills of their employees. There is a broad distinction between employers that pursue “high road strategies”, where employees and the skills that they possess are viewed as an integral part of a business’s competitive advantage, or “low road” strategies, where labour is considered a commodity and workers are seen as a cost to be minimised (OECD, 2020[60]). One potential avenue for better skills use is promoting high-performance working practices. Such practices include, for example, employee reward programmes, more flexible working hours, mentoring and leadership development courses, as well as a company culture that promotes training and development. The development of a Pact for Skills that seeks to embed lifelong learning into the workplace, announced in the Irish National Economic Dialogue 2021, could be a vehicle to provoke a cultural change in firms (Government of Ireland, 2021[61]).

In Ireland, about 20% of jobs apply HPWPs more than once a week, which is just below the OECD average but well behind leading jurisdictions (Figure 3.10). The average share of jobs adopting HPWPs is the highest in Denmark (42%), followed by Finland (41%), Sweden (40%) and Flanders, Belgium (36%). Low usage of HPWP has implications for promoting the employment outcomes of persons with disabilities because it shows that Irish firms tends to invest less than other OECD countries in human resources and management practices, which improve the overall working environment. New Zealand has adopted an innovative employer support to promote HPWPs (see Box 3.5).

Giving every adult, including persons with disabilities, the right to take leave for education and training purposes can increase training participation. Shortage of time is the biggest barrier to learning participation for low-skilled adults according to OECD PIAAC data, be this due to work related (22%) or family related reasons (19%). Low-skilled workers have limited bargaining power to ask their employer for paid training leave (OECD, 2019[25]). Getting to training facilities and learning may be more time intensive for persons with disabilities. Union learners with disabilities in the United Kingdom more often mentioned work-related shortage of time as a major barrier to learning (29% vs. 19%) (Stuart et al., 2016[50]).

The Irish Government should consider implementing a statutory entitlement to education and training leave with financial compensation for employees and employers. Currently, education and training leave is regulated in collective agreements (OECD, 2019[5]). With only a third of employees covered by collective agreements and with only about 5% of employees covered by a collective agreement that includes collective training agreements, this greatly limits training leave entitlement of all workers, and likely even more for workers in a weaker bargaining position vis-à-vis their employer (OECD, 2019[58]). About half the OECD countries regulate entitlement to education and training leave in national legislation. In order to ensure its uptake, many countries provide financial incentives for learners and employers alongside statutory leave, often with additional generosity for low-skilled workers or SMEs (OECD, 2019[5]; 2017[62]). However, even systems with generous leave for low-skilled workers, such as Austria and France, show limited uptake among these groups, underlining the need for accompanying career and training guidance (Perez and Vourc’h, 2020[63]; OECD, 2020[64]).

Financial barriers form another obstacle for persons with disabilities. Disability comes on average with more frequent career breaks and a wage penalty, and may come with higher costs (Baldwin and Choe, 2014[67]). Financial barriers are an important factor for persons with disabilities to be digitally included (see Section 3.2.2). Taking unpaid leave may not be financially viable. At the same time, training investments may have lower returns for those in low-paid positions with limited opportunities to progress. Financial incentives for individuals, such as loan and individual subsidy schemes can make adult learning systems more equitable and prevent underinvestment if they incorporate top-ups for disadvantaged groups. Such schemes are widely used in OECD countries, for instance in France. Specific schemes in Canada and the United Kingdom go even further and provide financial support for all training costs (Box 3.6). In Ireland instead, financing support for training is predominantly organised through company grants.11 Co-financing schemes directed at firms do not address the low training participation of particular groups of workers. Employers generally prefer to train educated workers who are more involved in complex jobs (Brunello and Wruuck, 2020[68]).

Accommodating to individual preferences and constraints by making adjustments in the workplace is important for all workers – with and without disabilities. Accommodation, any change in the workplace, such as job task, working time or work environment, to enable a person to access, perform and advance in a job, reduces the negative impact that individual constraints, including health problems, can have on work (Autor and Duggan, 2010[69]). The employer plays a pivotal role in the successful arrangement and implementation of accommodation. A good example of accommodation is the large increase in working time and workplace flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, to allow individuals to continue to work while reducing physical contact (Schur, Ameri and Kruse, 2020[70]).

A substantial evidence base indicates that accommodation helps to reduce employment and work barriers. Working time and workplace flexibility allows working parents to find a more adequate work-life balance (OECD, 2016[71]). They are key instruments for the inclusion of women in the labour force and the reduction of the gender pay gap, as long as flexibility does not come with a wage penalty (Goldin, 2014[72]). Accommodation helps to promote an age-inclusive workforce that can live, work, learn and earn longer (OECD, 2020[73]). For persons with disabilities, receiving accommodation is associated with higher retention rates and less early retirement (Hill, Maestas and Mullen, 2016[74]; Maestas, Mullen and Rennane, 2019[75]; Phillips et al., 2019[76]). Research for Ireland echoes these findings, reporting that different accommodations enable persons with disabilities to take up and retain employment (Watson, Banks and Lyon, 2015[77]; NDA, 2019[78]). In a large British non-randomised survey, 80% of persons with disabilities receiving accommodation agreed that adjustments helped them stay in their job, made them more productive and 60% enjoyed their job more (Business Disability Forum, 2020[79]). Similar results are reported for persons without disabilities receiving accommodation (Schur et al., 2014[80]). A systematic literature review of the role of employers in supporting continued employment of workers with disabilities finds strong evidence for an association between work accommodation and continued employment and return to work, and moderate evidence for an association between accommodation and reduced long-term disability. The review concludes that there is a much stronger evidence base for positive employment associations of work accommodation than for other forms of employer involvement, including provision of social support and the organisational culture (Jansen et al., 2021[81]).

Moreover, accommodation contributes to firm performance. Causal evidence indicates that working time flexibility can promote intrinsic motivation, employee effort and the attraction of talent, and help to reduce excessive employee turnover (Beckmann, 2015[82]; Beckmann, Cornelissen and Kräkel, 2017[83]; Boltz et al., 2020[84]). Managers in firms with adjustments in place report happier and more productive employees with disabilities (Business Disability Forum, 2020[79]). In a representative American survey among 6 530 supervisors in organisations with 25 or more employees, 80-93% of supervisors stated that their working time flexibility, workplace flexibility and job sharing business practices were effective, with 76-88% saying it was as effective for employees with disabilities (Phillips et al., 2019[76]). Accommodation further contributes to the overall positive corporate culture within an organisation. It can increase loyalty of employees towards the employer. Granting accommodations has positive spillover effects on attitudes of co-workers (Schur et al., 2014[80]). Accommodation practices pertinent to all employees are more commonly viewed as potentially effective than practices specific to employees with disabilities (Phillips et al., 2019[76]).

Accommodation costs are close to zero in at least a third of all cases and substantial in only a few, since it is most often flexibility rather than expenditure that is required of an employer (OECD, 2010, p. 134[85]). Employees with disabilities are more likely to request accommodations, but the types of accommodations requested and the reported costs and benefits are similar for disability and non-disability accommodations (Schur et al., 2014[80]). The most commonly requested accommodations reported by American employees both with and without disabilities are changes in work schedules (35-38%). About 40% of requested accommodations had zero or very small monetary costs according to both employees and managers (Schur et al., 2014[80]; Sundar et al., 2018[24]). Non-randomised survey evidence from the United Kingdom corroborates this, confirming that the most common adjustments demanded as well as provided were flexible and adjusted working hours, working from home and time off to attend appointments or therapies to help manage a condition (Business Disability Forum, 2020[79]).

Evidence even seems to suggest that low-cost flexibility accommodations are more effective than expensive forms of accommodation to reduce work barriers. American employees with disabilities having flexible working hours had an eight percentage-point higher probability of staying in employment. Flexible working hours and modified job duties correlate particularly strongly with better employment outcomes for individuals with recent disability onset. Instead, more expensive work accommodations such as having a personal care attendant or assistant only had a statistically significant correlation with employment outcomes for persons with multiple disabilities (Anand and Sevak, 2017[86]). A study for Norway found that working hour and work task adjustments, rather than physical adaptations, had positive causal effects on employment for persons with disabilities (Kuznetsova and Bento, 2018[87]). Similar results are reported in literature reviews, including for Ireland (Nevala et al., 2015[88]; Watson, Banks and Lyon, 2015[77]).

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic when telework practices expanded rapidly, working hour flexibility was not particularly mainstream among employees in Ireland (Figure 3.11. Panel A). Only 14% of low-educated and 32% of high-educated employees can decide fully or within certain restrictions on their own working hours, well below the OECD average of respectively 20% and 44%. Such flexibility is much more common in Nordic countries. In Finland, more than half the low-educated employees have a certain level of working hour flexibility, rising to more than 80% among high-educated workers. Nevertheless, Irish workers generally report that it is very or fairly easy to take two hours off at a short notice, with little difference between educational levels (Figure 3.11, Panel B). These values are near OECD average.

Working part-time is somewhat more mainstream in Ireland. Yet, there are reasons to suspect that its quality is less profound (Figure 3.11, Panel C). Part-time work is more prevalent among low-educated employees in Ireland than on average across the OECD (25% vs. 20%), whereas it is less prevalent among high-educated employees (13% vs. 15%). Ireland has the highest gap in prevalence of part-time work between low and high-educated workers in the OECD region after the Slovak Republic. The gap is much smaller or non-existent in many Nordic countries, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom. Further analysis using 2019 Irish labour force survey data indicates that part-time employees less often have a permanent contract (27% vs. 5% for full-time employees), are less often managers, (associate) professionals or technicians (22% vs. 50%) and less often have some or a large influence on content and order of job tasks (47% vs. 62%).12

About 15% of employees in Ireland reported in 2019 to usually or sometimes work from home, close to OECD average (Figure 3.11, Panel D). Again, the Nordics, the Netherlands and Switzerland have much more mainstreamed workplace flexibility practices, with up to a third of employees usually or sometimes working from home. Working from home became rapidly more common in Ireland throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (SOLAS, 2021[55]).

Employees with disabilities generally do not enjoy more working time and workplace flexibility on average across OECD countries in 2015.13 Employees with disabilities more often work part-time, but also report more often difficulties in taking one or two hours off at short notice when accounting for their labour market position (Figure 3.11, Panel E). For Ireland only, more recent information for 2019 is available from the Labour Force Survey. This confirms that employees with disabilities do not enjoy more (or less) working time flexibility than employees without disabilities – among both groups, about one in four report being able to fully or within restrictions decide on working time and slightly more than one in two state it is easy to take one or two days off from work within three working days. Employees with disabilities state slightly less often that they usually or sometimes work at home (11% compared to 15% for employees without disabilities).14 As discussed in Section 2.3, remote working offers opportunities to improve the employment position of persons with disabilities also for after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Irish employers have to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities to the extent this does not impose a disproportionate burden to the organisation. This obligation to provide reasonable accommodation extends to all work-related activities, from the job application process through to termination, and includes working conditions, training and fringe benefits. The obligation also covers procedural obligations to sufficiently enquire into and consider special treatment and facilities, and to consult with the employee throughout the process. The employer obligations are stipulated in the EU’s Employment Equality Directive as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which the EU and all its member states are parties. Similar requirements exist in non-EU OECD countries, such as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The NDA has examined how “reasonable accommodation” is interpreted by the Irish Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court, and has highlighted obstacles and good practices (NDA, 2019[78]).

Nevertheless, persons with disabilities do not always receive the accommodation they need. Take-up estimations vary, as it is difficult to elicit the population with accommodation needs (Maestas, Mullen and Rennane, 2019[75]). About 60% of Irish employees with disabilities state that they can “fully or with certain restrictions” decide on their working hours, work from home several times a month or more, and/or have received accommodation (Figure 3.12, Panel A). About a fourth state that they received accommodation for their illness or health problem. These figures are close to the OECD average, but below rates in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands. Employer survey evidence paints a comparable picture. About three in five SMEs and 95% of large firms have provided employees with health problems the possibility to reduce working hours in Ireland, slightly above OECD average (Figure 3.12, Panel B). Still, this means that a substantial part of staff with health problems does not even receive this basic accommodation. Estimations for the United States suggest that between half and two-thirds of the population whose current or future employment position can be strengthened by accommodation actually received accommodation (Maestas, Mullen and Rennane, 2019[75]; Anand and Sevak, 2017[86]). Non-randomised survey evidence for the United Kingdom found that 60% of respondents with disabilities working without accommodation had either requested or considered requesting them, and 52% of respondents with accommodation in place had either requested or considered requesting additional or alternative accommodation (Business Disability Forum, 2020[79]).

Governments and employers play a key role in making sure that persons with disabilities receive the appropriate accommodation to become and stay active in the labour market.

First, low-cost mainstream accommodation such as working time and work place flexibility, including the possibility to work part-time, should be widely available. Mainstreaming flexibility prevents the need to disclose disability and is therefore particularly important for persons with unobservable disabilities, such as mental health problems (OECD, 2015[89]). The need to disclose is currently an important barrier to obtain accommodation. Employee characteristics, particularly the presence of personality traits correlated with assertiveness and open communication, were found to be much more predictive of accommodation than employer characteristics among a sample of newly disabled workers over age 50 (Hill, Maestas and Mullen, 2016[74]). This highlights the importance of self-advocacy training for persons with disabilities, for instance as part of vocational rehabilitation, and potentially having advocates who can support persons with disabilities to express their needs. Moreover, widely available working time and workplace flexibility reduces the stigma that may come with requesting or receiving accommodation, which may even be perceived as preferential treatment (Tompa et al., 2015[90]). This may further help improving the quality of part-time work.

Ireland currently does not have a statutory entitlement to working time flexibility, working part-time or working from home. Such practices are instead left to the individual employer and employee to agree on.15 Its National Remote Work Strategy proposes to implement the statutory entitlement to request remote work by the end of 2021. It does not contain, however, a proposal for statutory entitlement to ask for working time flexibility and working hour reductions, but only advises “to improve data on flexible working arrangements, to provide an evidence base for future policy” (DETE, 2021[91]). Statutory arrangements to work from home are widespread across OECD countries. About 15 OECD countries have an enforceable right to request working from home granted in law or in encompassing collective agreements for at least some categories of workers (OECD, 2021[92]). The Netherlands and the United Kingdom provide good examples of statutory entitlements for workers to ask for working time flexibility and/or workplace accommodation to suit their needs, which employers can only refuse on the basis of strictly defined business reasons (Box 1.7).16

Second, all partners involved, be it employers, individuals or medical professionals and interest groups, should have access to clear information and guidance on how to put reasonable accommodation into practice and what supports are available. Three quarters of American supervisors in a large representative survey responded that they consult guidance on accommodation provision from federal, state, or local resources, with nine in ten stating that this practice was effective (Phillips et al., 2019[76]). About half the Irish employers reported in a non-representative and limited survey that information support would encourage them to employ persons with disabilities (EDI, 2018[93]). Access to financial support to implement accommodation if costs may arise, which many OECD countries provide, should be simple as well. In Ireland, financial support is organised through four grants from the Reasonable Accommodation Fund, which can cover a significant share of accommodation costs. In total, only 100-200 applications per year were made between 2015-18 – including only one grant throughout all those years for the Employee Retention Scheme to retain staff acquiring an illness, condition or impairment (NDA, 2020[94]). Few Irish employers are aware of the schemes and there are complaints about long waiting periods and red tape, according to a non-representative and limited survey among Irish employers (EDI, 2018[93]). An interesting initiative is the Reasonable Accommodation Passport, launched in 2019 by the social partners (Ibec and Irish Congress of Trade Unions). The Passport allows for a written record of confidential accommodations agreed between the employee and their line manager. The Passport is meant to facilitate that reasonable accommodations are put in place, evaluated and kept up to date, in line with changes in employees’ conditions and changes in job roles.

Employers may need particular information and guidance on the implementation of workplace policies. Employer survey evidence from the 2019 European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER) shows that only one in four firms with employees regularly working from home and who regularly conduct workplace risk assessments extend such assessments to include the workplace at home. In Ireland, this share is even lower – about one in six firms.

Third, employers should promote an inclusive and proactive corporate culture with attention to the individualised needs of all employees (Schur et al., 2014[80]). Employers and managers should have the awareness and skills to accommodate the needs of their workers. A systematic literature overview found evidence that social support from the supervisor is associated with return to work of employees with disabilities (Jansen et al., 2021[81]). Such a culture helps to create a safe space for disclosure to personalise accommodation. A first tool in this regard is the promotion of disability and awareness training as part of broader inclusion training. More than 90% of supervisors who received disability and awareness training believed that this helped them to employ and accommodate persons with disabilities (Erickson et al., 2014[23]; Phillips et al., 2019[76]). Many countries provide financial support for disability awareness training. Only a handful of Irish employers make use of such support every year (NDA, 2020[94]). A second tool for employers is to include disability in their diversity statement to showcase support also from the top management. Both supervisors and workers state that they would benefit from more commitment by top management, to ensure that supervisors can dedicate the time required and provide the accommodation for employees to fully succeed in their positions (Phillips et al., 2019[76]). Currently, broad efforts toward diversity and inclusion do not always extend to persons with disabilities. For instance, less than half of the top 100 companies on Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 most profitable US firms explicitly included persons with disabilities (Erickson et al., 2014[23]).

In many OECD countries, employers bear considerable obligations to prevent health problems from arising at the workplace and to facilitate return-to-work for employees experiencing health problems. Engaging employers can help to:

  1. 1. Prevent labour market risks. Employer obligations encourage employers to invest in the quality of the work environment in order to prevent labour market risks, such as (work) accidents and (occupational) sickness from occurring in the first place (Pouliakas and Theodossiou, 2013[95]);

  2. 2. Accommodate employees who become sick or disabled and are still at work. Employers are in a position to reduce the consequences of impairments by accommodating workers or by facilitating vocational rehabilitation. Such early intervention when sickness or disability arises helps to avoid a progression to chronic disability (Hullegie and Koning, 2015[96]);

  3. 3. Minimise movements of workers from their payrolls onto the disability system. Engaging employers contributes to the prevention of labour market exit of sick or redundant workers onto public sickness and disability schemes (Autor and Duggan, 2010[69]; Burkhauser and Daly, 2011[97]; Liebman and Smalligan, 2013[98]; Liebman, 2015[99]; Autor et al., 2017[100]);

  4. 4. Prevent early retirement. Employer obligations strengthen their role as partial gatekeepers to the retirement benefit system. Employers may be tempted to allow redundant workers to retire early. Such incentives are amplified when employers’ social security contributions and wages rise with age or length of service, while productivity might not grow in tandem (OECD, 2008[101]).

Workers and public authorities also have an important role to play in the prevention of health problems and the promotion of return-to-work. Workers should be obliged to facilitate their return-to-work as much as possible, be it in their current job or another if necessary. Public authorities have a responsibility to create an equitable and efficient system of paid sick leave, in which both employers and employees have mutual and reasonable obligations to promote return-to-work, while providing the necessary support to ensure that workers with existing health problems can still access the labour market. Employers are not able to prevent the presence of all work-limiting impairments. They further cannot perfectly monitor and hence fully manage sickness absence. Moreover, employer incentives may have undesirable effects, such as under-reporting of disability and lower hiring of workers who are more likely to become sick (Hassink, 2018[102]; Hullegie and Koning, 2015[96]).

In many OECD countries, employers have strong financial incentives to prevent work injuries and occupational diseases. For instance, in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, employer contributions to workers’ compensation schemes (covering work injuries and occupational diseases) reflect sector-specific variation in risks, with employers in sectors with higher injury rates paying higher insurance premiums. A number of countries, such as the Netherlands, even go further by having an experience-rated system of employer-specific contributions. In such systems, insurance premiums are adjusted for each firm to reflect the costs of its workers’ past claims. Employers with high outflow due to work injury and occupational disease are penalised through a surcharge on top of the base premium, while employers with low outflow are rewarded with a discount.

In Ireland, costs of work injuries and occupational diseases are largely socialised. Employers pay a fixed contribution to the Irish workers’ compensation scheme (consisting principally of Injury Benefit and Disablement Benefit). As of 2014, Ireland has implemented the Recovery of Certain Benefits and Assistance Scheme, which enables the government to recover from firms the value of certain illness-related social welfare payments due to personal injuries. Between 2014 and 2018, the scheme allowed the government to recuperate almost EUR 80 million – equal to about 0.5% of total spending of the covered social welfare schemes – implying a lower employer tax on work injuries than in most other OECD countries.17 Moreover, the system is a legally complex and cumbersome way of providing incentives to firms to prevent work injuries and occupational diseases.

Employers in Ireland have extensive obligations regarding occupational safety and health (OSH), in line with those found in other OECD countries. EU directives set out minimum responsibilities of employers and employees. Those responsibilities for employers include a general responsibility to prevent ill-health at work; obligations to take appropriate measures for safe and healthy work; organising the safety processes, in particular risk assessments and training; and the inclusion of workers and their representatives. Ireland has transposed the EU directives through the 2005 Safety Health and Welfare at work (SHWW) Act.

Employer-provided sick pay, continued wage payments by the employer to employees during a temporary sickness spell, is another instrument to prevent sickness and promote return-to-work. Employer-provided sick pay together with sickness benefits (generally paid through social insurance) forms the paid sick leave system of a country. Paid sick leave protects workers’ incomes, jobs and health, and improves population health at large through the reduction of spread of contagious diseases. It is therefore a key policy through the COVID-19 pandemic (Box 1.8).

Ireland is currently still one of only a few OECD countries where statutory paid sick leave only consists of publicly provided sickness benefit, called the Illness Benefit, without obligations to employers to provide sick pay (Figure 3.13). Almost all European OECD countries, as well as Australia, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand have a double payment system, where employers are financially responsible for sick pay during the initial period of sickness followed by publicly provided sickness benefits. As discussed below, the Irish Government is planning to implement statutory sick pay.

Irish employers and employees may agree on sick pay entitlements in their individual contracts, but prevalence and generosity is likely low and highly unequal.18 The non-randomised CIPD-IRN private sector pay survey found that 44% of their 500 surveyed organisations provided some form of sick pay, which is likely to be an upper bound estimate.19 Other non-randomised surveys indicate that only 10% of workers in the red meat sector and 16% of workers in childcare have access to sick pay.20 Moreover, voluntary employer provision generally results in large inequality in coverage, with lowest coverage for low-wage workers as is clear from evidence from the United States (BLS, 2019[116]; Maclean, Pichler and Ziebarth, 2020[117]; Schneider, 2020[118]). Voluntary employer provision also tends to lead to low levels of generosity (OECD, 2019[4]). Among the two-thirds of US workers with a fixed number of sick days per year, about four in five were entitled to fewer than ten paid sick days per year (BLS, 2019[116]).

With no statutory sick pay and low levels of sickness benefits, paid sick leave entitlements (the sum of statutory sick pay and sickness benefits) are not generous in Ireland in international context. For an average earner, paid sick leave replaces only about 17% of an eligible employee’s wage during a four-week sickness spell – far below the OECD average of 63% (Figure 3.13.) and not including any entitlement to voluntarily provided employer sick pay. Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are the only OECD countries providing flat-rate sickness benefits below the relative poverty threshold of 50% of median income, even when the waiting period for receiving benefits is not taken into account (Bose et al., 2020[119]). Moreover, voluntarily provided employer sick pay when it is paid may not necessarily complement the low payment levels, as employers are allowed to ask employees who receive a public sickness payment to sign over any Illness Benefit payment they are entitled to.

The current Irish Government has committed to the establishment of statutory sick pay by the beginning of 2022 – an action that is laudable even though this first step should be followed by further improvements. Effective statutory sick pay systems should consist of four elements: (1) broad access; (2) substantive employer engagement; (3) promotion of return to work; and (4) adaptability during pandemics.

  1. 1. Broad access. Sick pay that covers all conditions and all employees will realise the largest gains for workers and the Irish population at large, and will have the strongest sickness prevention effects. First, employees should be eligible for sick pay regardless of tenure and contract type. Sick pay depends on seniority only in a few OECD countries. For instance, in Germany, sick pay obligations start after four weeks of uninterrupted employment. Finnish employers have to provide sick pay at a reduced 50% replacement level for employees with less than one month tenure. In France, maximum days of sick pay obligations increase with tenure, starting with 60 days between 1-5 years of tenure, up to 180 days for more than 30 years of tenure. Second, waiting periods should be kept low. The Netherlands (two days), France and Spain (both three days) are the only European OECD countries with sick pay waiting periods.

  2. 2. Substantive employer engagement. Real behavioural impact on sickness prevention requires potentially significant employer costs. This includes firstly a decent sick pay duration. The length of this sick pay obligations varies, and is 5-15 days in many OECD countries, but several months per year in Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and even two years in the Netherlands (OECD, 2018[120]). Second, impact will be stronger when sick pay obligations recur with every sickness spell, rather than when sick pay obligations are cumulative throughout the year. Third, sick pay levels should (almost) fully replace wages, at least for an initial period. Low generosity may have undesired effects. While a large cut in paid sick leave for Spanish public sector employees in 2012 reduced the incidence of sickness absence by 29%, it also led to 28% longer sickness absence, more sickness relapses because of infectious diseases, and a 50% increase in work-related accidents (Marie and Vall Castello, 2020[121]). Sick pay fully replaces wages during the initial weeks of sickness in most countries. A number of OECD countries have sick pay replacement rates that decrease over the sickness spell. For instance, Austria provides full sick pay replacement for employees for 6-12 weeks depending on tenure, followed by a four-week sick pay period with a 50% replacement rate.

  3. 3. Promotion of return to work. The introduction of statutory sick pay should be seen as a structure that facilitates a speedy return to work of recovered employees rather than a payment. Data for a number of OECD countries demonstrate that after a period of around three months, return to work becomes very difficult for people off-work for health reasons (OECD, 2015[89]). Firstly, Ireland should consider adopting obligatory capacity-oriented sickness certificates for early intervention during a worker’s sickness absence. In Ireland currently, employers may ask for a medical certificate but are not required to and there is no automatic reassessment of Illness Benefit recipients. Promising examples of capacity-oriented sickness certificates come from Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (Box 1.9). Secondly, Ireland should better promote a gradual return to work. Currently, Illness Benefit recipients able to work need to transition to Partial Capacity Benefit, which is only allowed after six months. This transition is voluntary rather than encouraged by authorities. Not surprisingly, as of February 2021, only 1 327 persons were availing of Partial Capacity Benefit coming from Illness Benefit.21 Moreover, Illness Benefit recipients are not allowed to do rehabilitative voluntary work or undertake training, unless having received written approval from the Department. The 2017 Review of Partial Capacity Benefit serves as a good point of departure to promote early intervention, return to work and take-up. Its recommendations include the implementation of a tripartite responsibility for a phased return-to-work plan involving the worker, the doctor and the employer and the removal of the six month duration on Illness Benefit requirement (DSP, 2017[122]). Promising practices of partial return to work policies come from Austria and Norway.

  4. 4. Adaptability during pandemics. Employer sick pay obligations should be temporarily reduced or removed during contagious pandemics. Arguments for sick pay are less strong during a very contagious pandemic, when physical return to work should be maximally discouraged. It is also not obvious that employers should pay for extensions of existing legislation, such as sick pay in case of mandatory quarantine, especially if firms are facing major financial stress already. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, 14 out of 23 OECD countries which have a statutory sick pay system and for which information is available temporarily reduced employer costs for sick workers due to COVID-19. Similarly, 23 out of 24 OECD countries with a sick pay system and for which information is available publicly finance fully or almost fully paid sick leave for those in quarantine. Ireland should consider introducing laws or mechanisms that, in times of pandemics, automatically and temporarily extend paid sick leave entitlements to workers in mandatory quarantine and reduce employer obligations to provide sick pay. Such mechanisms were in place before the COVID-19 pandemic in for instance Austria, Finland, Germany and Sweden (OECD, 2020[110]).

The Irish Government should also consider implementing a clear vocational rehabilitation pathway, with shared responsibilities for the employer. Vocational rehabilitation aims to restore and develop skills and capabilities of persons who become sick or acquire disability while at work, so that they can continue to participate in the general workforce. Many continental European countries have in place strong vocational rehabilitation systems. In Austria and Switzerland, for instance, each disability benefit claim is automatically treated as a request for rehabilitation. Employers have an important role in the vocational rehabilitation scheme in the Netherlands, where they must do their utmost to reintegrate sick employees, which includes a retraining responsibility for two years, in line with their sick-pay obligation (OECD, 2010[85]). The implementation of a well-developed vocational rehabilitation system in Ireland would work as an early intervention and gatekeeper mechanism to prevent that people exit into disability benefits. Moreover, it would encourage employers to take part in return-to-work and work accommodation, as well as to create relevant training opportunities. Employers would need support and guidance how to best assist the return to work of employees, and need to be pointed to available financial supports (NDA, 2020[123]).


[34] AHEAD (2021), UDL for FET Practitioners: Guidance for Implementing Universal Design for Learning in Irish Further Education and Training, https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/81044b80ce/fet_practitioners-main.pdf (accessed on 5 July 2021).

[86] Anand, P. and P. Sevak (2017), “The role of workplace accommodations in the employment of people with disabilities”, IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Vol. 6/1, pp. 1-20, https://doi.org/10.1186/s40173-017-0090-4.

[112] Andersen, M. et al. (2020), “Effect of a Federal Paid Sick Leave Mandate on Working and Staying at Home: Evidence from Cellular Device Data”, NBER Working Paper, No. 27138, https://www.nber.org/papers/w27138 (accessed on 11 May 2020).

[109] Asfaw, A., R. Rosa and R. Pana-Cryan (2017), “Potential Economic Benefits of Paid Sick Leave in Reducing Absenteeism Related to the Spread of Influenza-Like Illness”, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 59/9, pp. 822-829, https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000001076.

[69] Autor, D. and M. Duggan (2010), Supporting Work: A Proposal for Modernizing the U.S. Disability Insurance System, The Center for American Progress and the Hamilton Project, Washington DC, https://www.hamiltonproject.org/papers/supporting_work_a_proposal_for_modernizing_the_u.s._disability_insuran (accessed on 29 September 2020).

[100] Autor, D. et al. (2017), “Does Delay Cause Decay? The Effect of Administrative Decision Time on the Labor Force Participation and Earnings of Disability Applicants”, Mimeo.

[67] Baldwin, M. and C. Choe (2014), “Re-examining the models used to estimate disability-related wage discrimination”, https://doi.org/10.1080/00036846.2013.872762, Vol. 46/12, pp. 1393-1408, https://doi.org/10.1080/00036846.2013.872762.

[82] Beckmann, M. (2015), “Working-time autonomy as a management practice”, IZA World of Labor, https://doi.org/10.15185/izawol.230.

[83] Beckmann, M., T. Cornelissen and M. Kräkel (2017), “Self-managed working time and employee effort: Theory and evidence”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Vol. 133, pp. 285-302, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2016.11.013.

[116] BLS (2019), Paid sick leave: What is available to workers?, BLS, Washington DC, http://www.bls.gov/ebs (accessed on 13 May 2020).

[111] Bodas, M. and K. Peleg (2020), “Self-Isolation Compliance In The COVID-19 Era Influenced By Compensation: Findings From A Recent Survey In Israel”, Health Affairs, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00382.

[84] Boltz, M. et al. (2020), “How Does Working-Time Flexibility Affect Workers’ Productivity in a Routine Job? Evidence from a Field Experiment”, IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 13825, http://www.iza.org (accessed on 11 March 2021).

[119] Bose, B. et al. (2020), “Can Working Women and Men Afford to Take Paid Leave? A Comparative Study of the Level of Paid Leave Benefits and Poverty Thresholds in the OECD”, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, Vol. 22/5, pp. 422-439, https://doi.org/10.1080/13876988.2019.1629066.

[68] Brunello, G. and P. Wruuck (2020), “Employer provided training in Europe: Determinants and obstacles”, EIB Working Paper, No. 2020 / 03, European Investment Bank, https://doi.org/10.2867/50660.

[97] Burkhauser, R. and M. Daly (2011), The Declining Work and Welfare of People with Disabilities: What Went Wrong and a Strategy for Change, American Enterprise Institute Press, Washington DC, https://books.google.fr/books?hl=en&lr=&id=pkMnx_YTZM0C&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=Burkhauser,+R.+V.,+%26+Daly,+M.+C.+(2011).+The+declining+work+and+welfare+of+people+with+disabilities:+What+went+wrong+and+a+strategy+for+change&ots=6NhOM29NF1&sig=j7JVHMleYRfH4a6Ri_vEL3qRSd4&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed on 29 September 2020).

[79] Business Disability Forum (2020), The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey: Exploring the experience and outcomes of workplace adjustments in 2019-20.

[114] Chen, S. et al. (2020), “Tracking the Economic Impact of COVID-19 and Mitigation Policies in Europe and the United States”, IMF Special Series on COVID-19, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/SPROLLs/covid19-special-notes (accessed on 13 May 2020).

[16] CSO (2019), Equality and Discrimination Survey 2019, https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/ed/equalityanddiscrimination2019/ (accessed on 20 July 2020).

[104] DeRigne, L., P. Stoddard-Dare and L. Quinn (2016), “Workers Without Paid Sick Leave Less Likely To Take Time Off For Illness Or Injury Compared To Those With Paid Sick Leave”, Health Affairs, Vol. 35/3, pp. 520-527, https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0965.

[42] Desjardins, R. (2017), Political economy of adult learning systems, Bloomsbury Academic, London.

[91] DETE (2021), Making Remote Work: National Remote Work Strategy, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/51f84-making-remote-work-national-remote-work-strategy/ (accessed on 6 May 2021).

[15] DFHERIS (2021), Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021–2025, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/0879f-action-plan-for-apprenticeship-2021-2025/ (accessed on 6 May 2021).

[14] DFHERIS (2021), Statement of Strategy 2021-2023, Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, https://www.gov.ie/en/organisation-information/3f066-statement-of-strategy-2021-2023/ (accessed on 5 May 2021).

[122] DSP (2017), A Review of Partial Capacity Benefit, Irish Department of Social Protection, Dublin, https://doi.org/10.1086/284531.

[13] Dublin Chamber (2021), Business Outlook Survey 2021: Q1, https://www.dublinchamber.ie/DublinChamberofCommerce/media/banners/Dub-Chamber_survey-report_Q1_v3_2.pdf (accessed on 5 May 2021).

[21] Dulee-Kinsolving, A. and S. Guerin (2020), FET in Numbers 2019: Learners with Disabilities, SOLAS, Dublin.

[22] Dulee-Kinsolving, A. and S. Guerin (2020), This is FET: Facts and Figures 2019, SOLAS, Dublin, https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/1ba83e5971/15429_solas_facts_report_2019_web.pdf (accessed on 6 January 2021).

[93] EDI (2018), Employers’ attitude to employing people with disabilities: Survey results October 2018, Employer Disability Information, http://www.employerdisabilityinfo.ie/_fileupload/Documents/EDI%20survey%202018%20report.pdf (accessed on 15 October 2020).

[23] Erickson, W. et al. (2014), “The Employment Environment: Employer Perspectives, Policies, and Practices Regarding the Employment of Persons With Disabilities”, Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, Vol. 57/4, pp. 195-208, https://doi.org/10.1177/0034355213509841.

[11] ESRI (2021), Identification of Skills Gaps Among Persons with Disabilities and Their Employment Prospects, https://www.esri.ie/ (accessed on 21 July 2021).

[35] ETBI (2018), Meeting the Needs of Learners with Disabilities, Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), Naas, https://www.etbi.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Meeting_Needs_Learners_with_Special_Needs_FET-2.docx (accessed on 1 March 2021).

[125] Fagan, C. et al. (2014), In search of good quality part-time employment, ILO, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---travail/documents/publication/wcms_237781.pdf (accessed on 31 March 2021).

[37] FETCI (2021), Vision for the FET College in the Tertiary Education Sector: A Discussion Document, Further Education and Training Colleges Ireland, Dublin, https://www.napd.ie/vision-for-the-fet-college-in-the-tertiary-education-sector-discussion-document/ (accessed on 5 May 2021).

[72] Goldin, C. (2014), “A grand gender convergence: Its last chapter”, American Economic Review, Vol. 104/4, pp. 1091-1119, https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.104.4.1091.

[61] Government of Ireland (2021), National Economic Dialogue 2021: Building a sustainable recovery post-Covid, https://assets.gov.ie/138345/06f56f38-95fb-4429-b05c-c2223f6614fd.pdf (accessed on 5 July 2021).

[44] Government of Ireland (2020), Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025, https://www.gov.ie/pdf/?file=https://assets.gov.ie/46557/bf7011904ede4562b925f98b15c4f1b5.pdf#page=1 (accessed on 5 July 2021).

[32] Government of Ireland (2018), Project Ireland 2040 – National Planning Framework, http://npf.ie/wp-content/uploads/Project-Ireland-2040-NPF.pdf (accessed on 5 May 2021).

[102] Hassink, W. (2018), “How to reduce workplace absenteeism: Financial incentives and changes in working conditions are key to many broad and tailor-made programs”, IZA World of Labor, Vol. 447, pp. 1-11, https://doi.org/10.15185/izawol.447.

[10] Heckman, J. (2006), “Skill formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children.”, Science (New York, N.Y.), Vol. 312/5782, pp. 1900-2, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1128898.

[9] Heckman, J., J. Humphries and G. Veramendi (2018), “Returns to Education: The Causal Effects of Education on Earnings, Health, and Smoking”, Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 126/S1, pp. S197-S246, https://doi.org/10.1086/698760.

[38] Higher Education Authority (2017), Review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities.

[74] Hill, M., N. Maestas and K. Mullen (2016), “Employer accommodation and labor supply of disabled workers”, Labour Economics, Vol. 41, pp. 291-303, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2016.05.013.

[96] Hullegie, P. and P. Koning (2015), “Employee Health and Employer Incentives”, IZA Discussion Paper, No. 9310, https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/9310/employee-health-and-employer-incentives (accessed on 5 October 2020).

[65] IES (2019), Review of Support for Disabled Students in Higher Education in England, Institute for Employment Studies, Brighton.

[57] ILO & ONCE (2021), An inclusive digital economy for people with disabilities, ILO Publishing, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_770150/lang--en/index.htm (accessed on 26 February 2021).

[47] Indecon (2019), Indecon Review of Career Guidance, Indecon, Dublin, https://assets.gov.ie/24951/dffde726604b451aa6cc50239a375299.pdf (accessed on 24 March 2021).

[81] Jansen, J. et al. (2021), “The Role of the Employer in Supporting Work Participation of Workers with Disabilities: A Systematic Literature Review Using an Interdisciplinary Approach”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-021-09978-3.

[66] Johnson, C. et al. (2019), Evaluation of disabled students’ allowances, Government Social Research, London.

[39] Kis, V. and H. Windisch (2018), “Making skills transparent: Recognising vocational skills acquired through workbased learning”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 180, https://doi.org/10.1787/5830c400-en (accessed on 9 February 2021).

[45] Klein, M., C. Iannelli and E. Smyth (2016), “School subject choices and social class differences in entry to higher education – Comparing Scotland and Ireland”, in Blossfeld, H. et al. (eds.), Models of Secondary Education and Social Inequality, Edward Elgar Publishing, https://doi.org/10.4337/9781785367267.00025.

[87] Kuznetsova, Y. and J. Bento (2018), “Workplace adaptations promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream employment: A case-study on employers’ responses in Norway”, Social Inclusion, Vol. 6/2, pp. 34-45, https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v6i2.1332.

[99] Liebman, J. (2015), Understanding the increase in disability insurance benefit receipt in the United States, American Economic Association, https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.29.2.123.

[98] Liebman, J. and J. Smalligan (2013), An Evidence-Based Path to Disability Insurance Reform, Brookings Institute and the Hamilton Project, Washington DC.

[2] Llena-Nozal, A. (2009), “The Effect of Work Status and Working Conditions on Mental Health in Four OECD Countries”, National Institute Economic Review, Vol. 209/1, pp. 72-87, https://doi.org/10.1177/0027950109345234.

[117] Maclean, J., S. Pichler and N. Ziebarth (2020), “Mandated Sick Pay: Coverage, Utilization, and Welfare Effects”, IZA Discussion Paper, No. 26832, NBER Working Paper, https://doi.org/10.3386/w26832.

[75] Maestas, N., K. Mullen and S. Rennane (2019), “Unmet Need for Workplace Accommodation”, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 38/4, pp. 1004-1027, https://doi.org/10.1002/pam.22148.

[121] Marie, O. and J. Vall Castello (2020), “If Sick-Leave Becomes More Costly, Will I Go Back to Work? Could It Be Too Soon?”, IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 13379, http://www.iza.org (accessed on 25 June 2020).

[40] McGinty, J. (2018), “Tips for Creating Inclusive and Accessible Instruction for Adult Learners: An Overview of Accessibility and Universal Design Methods for Adult Education Practitioners”, PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, Vol. 27, pp. 1-20, https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=mcginty+Tips+for+Creating+Inclusive+and+Accessible+Instruction+for+Adult+Learners%3A+An+Overview+of+Accessibility+and+Universal+Design+Methods+for+Adult+Education+Practitioners.&btnG= (accessed on 10 February 2021).

[17] Mooney, R. and C. O’Rourke (2017), Barriers to Further Education and Training with Particular Reference to Long Term Unemployed Persons and Other Vulnerable Individuals, SOLAS, https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/432b2fa3ba/barriers-to-fet-final-june-2017.pdf (accessed on 20 July 2020).

[53] Musset, P. (2018), “Improving work-based learning in schools”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 233, https://doi.org/10.1787/918caba5-en (accessed on 25 February 2021).

[94] NDA (2020), Mid-term Review of Progress: The National Disability Inclusion Strategy and Indicators, NDA, Dublin.

[123] NDA (2020), NDA Policy Advice on Vocational Rehabilitation Provision in Ireland, National Disability Authority, Dublin, http://nda.ie/Publications/Employment/Employment-Publications/NDA-advice-on-vocational-rehabilitation-in-Ireland.pdf (accessed on 7 May 2021).

[78] NDA (2019), Reasonable Accommodations: Obstacles and Opportunities to the Employment of Persons with a Disability, NDA, Dublin.

[88] Nevala, N. et al. (2015), “Workplace Accommodation Among Persons with Disabilities: A Systematic Review of Its Effectiveness and Barriers or Facilitators”, Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, Vol. 25/2, pp. 432-448, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-014-9548-z.

[31] North Carolina State University Press (ed.) (1998), The Universal Design File: Designing for People of All Ages and Abilities, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED460554.pdf (accessed on 11 February 2021).

[46] OECD (2021), Career Guidance for Adults in a Changing World of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9a94bfad-en (accessed on 26 February 2021).

[54] OECD (2021), “Teaching and learning in VET: Providing effective practical training in school-based settings”, OECD Policy Responses to COVID-19, https://doi.org/10.1787/64f5f843-en (accessed on 25 February 2021).

[92] OECD (2021), “Working time and its regulation in OECD countries: How much do we work and how?’”, in OECD (ed.), OECD Employment Outlook 2021, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[60] OECD (2020), “Better using skills in the workplace in the Leeds City Region, United Kingdom”, OECD Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Papers, No. 2020/1, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/a0e899a0-en.

[105] OECD (2020), “Beyond Containment: Health systems responses to COVID 19 in the OECD”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (Covid-19), https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=119_119689-ud5comtf84&title=Beyond_Containment:Health_systems_responses_to_COVID-19_in_the_OECD (accessed on 11 May 2020).

[64] OECD (2020), Increasing Adult Learning Participation: Learning from Successful Reforms, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/cf5d9c21-en (accessed on 4 February 2021).

[12] OECD (2020), OECD Economic Surveys: Ireland 2020, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/dec600f3-en.

[110] OECD (2020), “Paid sick leave to protect income, health and jobs through the COVID-19 crisis”, OECD COVID-19 Policy Brief.

[73] OECD (2020), Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce: Living, Learning and Earning Longer, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/59752153-en.

[115] OECD (2020), “Testing for COVID-19: A way to lift confinement restrictions”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/testing-for-covid-19-a-way-to-lift-confinement-restrictions-89756248/ (accessed on 11 March 2021).

[25] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Engaging low-skilled adults in learning, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/engaging-low-skilled-adults-2019.pdf (accessed on 26 January 2021).

[5] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Future-Ready Adult Learning Systems, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264311756-en.

[58] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Making Adult Learning Work in Social Partnership, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/adult-learning-work-in-social-partnership-2019.pdf (accessed on 26 January 2021).

[4] OECD (2019), OECD Employment Outlook 2019: The Future of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9ee00155-en.

[41] OECD (2019), OECD Skills Strategy Flanders: Assessment and Recommendations, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.werk.be/sites/default/files/nieuws/oecd_skills_strategy_flanders.pdf (accessed on 12 June 2019).

[30] OECD (2019), SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland, OECD Studies on SMEs and Entrepreneurship, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/e726f46d-en.

[3] OECD (2018), Good Jobs for All in a Changing World of Work: The OECD Jobs Strategy, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264308817-en.

[26] OECD (2018), Seven Questions about Apprenticeships: Answers from International Experience, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264306486-en (accessed on 22 February 2021).

[120] OECD (2018), Towards Better Social and Employment Security in Korea, Connecting People with Jobs, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264288256-en.

[62] OECD (2017), Financial Incentives for Steering Education and Training, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264272415-en.

[6] OECD (2017), Getting Skills Right: Skills for Jobs Indicators, Getting Skills Right, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264277878-en.

[71] OECD (2016), Be Flexible! Background brief on how workplace flexibility can help European employees to balance work and family, https://www.oecd.org/els/family/Be-Flexible-Backgrounder-Workplace-Flexibility.pdf (accessed on 11 March 2021).

[8] OECD (2016), “Skills use at work: Why does it matter and what influences it?”, in OECD (ed.), OECD Employment Outlook 2016, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/empl_outlook-2016-6-en (accessed on 22 February 2021).

[89] OECD (2015), Fit Mind, Fit Job: From Evidence to Practice in Mental Health and Work, Mental Health and Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264228283-en.

[28] OECD (2010), Learning for Jobs, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264087460-en.

[85] OECD (2010), Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers: A Synthesis of Findings across OECD Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264088856-en.

[101] OECD (2008), Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers (Vol. 3): Denmark, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264049826-en.

[7] OECD/ILO (2017), Better Use of Skills in the Workplace: Why It Matters for Productivity and Local Jobs, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/---ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_618785.pdf (accessed on 27 January 2021).

[63] Perez, C. and A. Vourc’h (2020), “Individualising training access schemes: France – the Compte Personnel de Formation (Personal Training Account – CPF)”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 245, https://doi.org/10.1787/301041f1-en (accessed on 15 February 2021).

[76] Phillips, K. et al. (2019), “The effectiveness of employer practices to recruit, hire, and retain employees with disabilities: Supervisor perspectives”, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, Vol. 51/3, pp. 339-353, https://doi.org/10.3233/JVR-191050.

[113] Pichler, S., K. Wen and N. Ziebarth (2020), “COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Has Helped Flatten The Curve In The United States”, Health Affairs, Vol. 39/12, pp. 2197-2204, https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00863 (accessed on 16 December 2020).

[106] Pichler, S., K. Wen and N. Ziebarth (2020), “Positive Health Externalities of Mandating Paid Sick Leave”, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

[107] Pichler, S. and N. Ziebarth (2017), “The pros and cons of sick pay schemes: Testing for contagious presenteeism and noncontagious absenteeism behavior”, Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 156, pp. 14-33, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpubeco.2017.07.003.

[95] Pouliakas, K. and I. Theodossiou (2013), “The economics of health and safety at work: an interdiciplinary review of the theory and policy”, Journal of Economic Surveys, Vol. 27/1, pp. 167-208, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6419.2011.00699.x.

[27] Quintini, G. and T. Manfredi (2009), “Going Separate Ways? School-to-Work Transitions in the United States and Europe”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 90, https://doi.org/10.1787/221717700447 (accessed on 11 May 2021).

[33] Quirke, M. and P. McCarty (2020), A Conceptual Framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for the Irish Further Education and Training Sector, SOLAS, https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/948bcabcc4/udl-for-fet-framework.pdf (accessed on 23 March 2021).

[52] Rougier, I. and B. LeGrand-Jung (2016), Evaluation des Cap emploi et de l’accompagnement vers l’emploi des travailleurs handicapés chômeurs de longue durée, Inspection générale des affaires sociales, Paris, https://www.igas.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/2016-124R.pdf (accessed on 24 March 2021).

[103] Saint-Martin, A., H. Inanc and C. Prinz (2018), “Job Quality, Health and Productivity: An evidence-based framework for analysis”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 221, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/a8c84d91-en.

[118] Schneider, D. (2020), Paid sick leave in Washington State: Evidence on employee outcomes, 2016-2018, American Public Health Association Inc., https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2019.305481.

[70] Schur, L., M. Ameri and D. Kruse (2020), “Telework After COVID: A “Silver Lining” for Workers with Disabilities?”, Journal of occupational rehabilitation, pp. 1-16, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-020-09936-5.

[80] Schur, L. et al. (2014), “Accommodating Employees With and Without Disabilities”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 53/4, pp. 593-621, https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21607.

[43] Skillnet (2021), Statement of Strategy 2021-2025, Skillnet Ireland, Dublin, https://www.skillnetireland.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Skillnet-Ireland-Strategy-2021-2025.pdf (accessed on 6 May 2021).

[59] SOLAS (2021), Spring Skills Bulletin 2021: Skills Mismatch in Ireland’s Labour Market.

[55] SOLAS (2021), Summer Skills Bulletin 2021: Working from Home in 2020, https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/51f84-making-remote-work-national-remote-work-strategy/ (accessed on 5 July 2021).

[18] SOLAS (2020), Future FET: Transforming Learning The National Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy, SOLAS, Dublin, https://www.solas.ie/f/70398/x/64d0718c9e/solas_fet_strategy_web.pdf (accessed on 21 December 2020).

[56] SOLAS (2020), Future of Jobs in Ireland - Automation Risk.

[29] SOLAS (2018), Review of pathways to participation in apprenticeship.

[124] Spasova, S. et al. (2017), Access to social protection for people working on non-standard contracts and as self-employed in Europe, European Commission, Brussels, https://doi.org/10.2767/700791.

[108] Stearns, J. and C. White (2018), “Can paid sick leave mandates reduce leave-taking?”, Labour Economics, Vol. 51, pp. 227-246, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2018.01.002.

[50] Stuart, M. et al. (2016), Evaluation of the Union Learning Fund Rounds 15-16 and Support Role of Unionlearn, University of Exeter, Exeter.

[24] Sundar, V. et al. (2018), “Striving to work and overcoming barriers: Employment strategies and successes of people with disabilities”, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, Vol. 48/1, pp. 93-109, https://doi.org/10.3233/JVR-170918.

[19] Thewissen, S. and D. Rueda (2019), “Automation and the Welfare State: Technological Change as a Determinant of Redistribution Preferences”, Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 52/2, pp. 171–208, https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414017740600.

[20] Thewissen, S., O. van Vliet and C. Wang (2017), “Taking the Sector Seriously: Data, Developments, and Drivers of Intrasectoral Earnings Inequality”, Social Indicators Research, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-017-1677-2.

[90] Tompa, E. et al. (2015), Evidence Synthesis of Workplace Accommodation Policies and Practices for Persons with Visible Disabilities Final Report, Institute for Work & Health.

[49] UWV (2020), Extra scholingsmogelijk-heden voor WGA’ers, UWV, https://www.uwv.nl/overuwv/Images/extra-scholingsmogelijkheden-voor-wga-ers.pdf (accessed on 10 February 2021).

[48] UWV (2020), Scholing van UWV-klanten met een arbeidsbeperking, UWV, https://www.uwv.nl/overuwv/Images/scholing-van-uwv-klanten-met-een-arbeidsbeperking.pdf (accessed on 10 February 2021).

[51] Velthuis, S. (2015), WALK PEER Programme Evaluation, Whitebarn Consulting, Dublin, https://www.walk.ie/perch/resources/walk-peer-evaluation-report-fv170415.pdf (accessed on 24 February 2021).

[36] WALK (2015), Accessing Mainstream Training: Barriers for People with Intellectual Disabilities, Walk, Dublin.

[77] Watson, D., J. Banks and S. Lyon (2015), “Educational and Employment Experiences of People with a Disability in Ireland: An Analysis of the National Disability Survey”, No. 41, ESRI Research Series, http://nda.ie/nda-files/Educational-and-Employment-Experiences-of-People-with-Disabilities-in-Ireland-PDF-version-.pdf (accessed on 21 December 2020).

[1] Watson, D., M. Lawless and B. Bertrand Maître (2017), “Employment transitions among people with a disability in Ireland: an analysis of the Quarterly National Household Survey, 2010-2015”, Research Series, No. 58, ESRI, Dublin, https://doi.org/10.26504/rs58.pdf.


← 1. A significant part of the recommendations apply to formal education as well. For instance, the importance of Universally Designed formal education system is key for inclusion and educational attainments of persons with disability.

← 2. Sample size does not allow for a breakdown by country and age group. Pooled across OECD countries, the digital gap is notably higher for persons aged 55-69 (10-11 percentage points) compared to persons aged 30-54 (6 percentage points) and persons aged 15-29 (3-4 percentage points). Ireland does not significantly deviate from this trend.

← 3. Older persons may have lower incentives to participate in training given the short pay-back time on investment.

← 4. A breakdown between age and health as main reason for not participating is not available.

← 5. In 2018, fewer learners (5%) expressed having a lasting health problem. However, response rates to the question used to identify learners with a lasting health problem were significantly lower than in 2019.

← 6. The EU-SILC 2016 data does not show a significant adult learning participation gap for employees with disabilities. Participation rates are low for employees with and without disabilities (around 25%). Instead, on average across OECD countries, 37% of employees with disabilities and 40% of employees without disabilities participate in adult learning.

← 7. In 2020 the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and SOLAS worked together in order to transfer the administration of the funding for students with disabilities from the HEA for Post Leaving Certificate courses in further education institutions to SOLAS

← 8. CSO census numbers for 2016.

← 9. On the other hand, British Unionlearn participants more often state that they asked their employer (50% vs. 35%) and actually have taken further training (61% vs. 50%) after having completed a course (Stuart et al., 2016[50]).

← 10. Calculations based on EWCS 2015. The small sample size does not allow for a breakdown by countries. There is no indication that the pattern in Ireland is different.

← 11. For an overview: see https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/tools/financing-adult-learning-db/overview/ireland

← 12. Data come from Labour Force Survey 2019q2 tabulations, provided by Jim Dalton from CSO.

← 13. Calculations based on EWCS (2015). The small sample size does not allow for a breakdown by countries. There are no significant indications that working time flexibility practices for persons with disabilities in Ireland differ from the OECD average.

← 14. Data come from Labour Force Survey 2019q2 tabulations, provided by Jim Dalton from CSO. The Labour Force Survey further confirms, as also discussed in Section 2.2, that employees with disabilities more often work part-time (29% versus 19% for employees without disabilities). The definition of disability in the Labour Force Survey is different from the definition in the EWCS, see Chapter 2.

← 15. Under the Protection of Employees (Part-time Work) Act of 2001, employers cannot treat a part-time employee less favourably than a comparable full time employee in respect of any condition of employment. The Irish Workplace Relations Commissions provides some non-binding guidance by means of a Code of Practice on Access to Part-Time Work. The Code lists a number of possible relevant conditions to be considered by the employer, including the employee’s personal and family needs, the equal opportunities policy of the organisation and business considerations.

← 16. Ireland can also improve its government policies to promote the quality of part-time jobs. Although part-time employees have full statutory access to social protection, they are not necessarily entitled to overtime pay after working their maximum hours per week (Spasova et al., 2017[124]; Fagan et al., 2014[125]).

← 17. The benefits that can be recovered under the Recovery of Certain Benefits and Assistance Scheme are: Illness Benefit, Partial Capacity Benefit, Injury Benefit, Incapacity Supplement, Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance, and the Supplementary Welfare Allowance.

← 18. The Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment writes in its Public Consultation on the introduction of a Statutory Sick Pay Scheme in Ireland: “Many employees already have an entitlement to sick leave (paid or unpaid) included in their contracts of employment.”

← 19. The survey only covered (1) CIPD members, a charity promoting better work and working lives and (2) subscribers to Industrial Relations News, a newspaper focusing on industrial and employee relations. The firms covered in the survey are likely to be bigger and with more interest in promoting healthy working conditions.

← 20. See https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad/2020-10-07/23/.

← 21. In comparison, about 56 000 individuals availed of Illness Benefit in 2018 (no more recent information available).

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2021

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.