AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Tessa Lyons: My WAM Experience

Here at AHEAD we run a work placement programme called The 'Willing Able Mentoring' Programme or 'WAM' for short. WAM aims to promote access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities and build the capacity of employers to integrate disability into the mainstream workplace.

Employers collaborate with WAM to offer mentored, paid jobs exclusively for graduates with disabilities.

Since 2005, The WAM Programme has provided over 600 graduates with disabilities secured paid employment with a wide range of employers in many different areas. Some of the employers WAM work with are; Pfizer, Bank of Ireland, the Civil Service, Bord Na Mona, ESB and Allianz. We have had jobs in; Data Analytics, Business Analyst, QC Chemist, various Graduate Programmes, and Executive Officers in the Civil Service.

If you are a student or graduate with a disability, we strongly encourage you to register on our WAMWorks Database. This way, you will be informed of any job opportunities and also of GetAHEAD's free upskilling workshops and events.

If you see a WAM job opportunity that you like, complete your CV and then upload your CV to the WAMWorks Database. The employing company will review your application and if you are successful they will invite you to interview. Please see our full list of WAM FAQs here.

By now you may be thinking "how do I know this 'WAM Programme' thing actually works?!". Below you can read a testimonial from one of our WAM graduates, Tessa Lyons.

Don't believe us? Believe Tessa!

WAM Graduate - Tessa's Story

*The following is an excerpt taken from a speech given by Tessa Lyons at the AHEAD WAM Leaders Award on 2022.

My name is Tessa and I have a visual impairment, which is why I am a WAM graduate. I started my WAM placement in October 2021 with Innopharma Education.

My WAM journey started when I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Business in the Galway Business School in 2020 – a year we will never forget, having classes online and doing exams from home… weird!!

I am the type of person who always has a plan but for once in my life – I had no plan or was not getting anywhere with job applications. So, I applied to do a Masters' degree at the National University of Galway in Business Analytics. During the lockdowns, I joined a group called Fighting Blindness, where we talked about and gained advice on work and how to prepare yourself for the workplace and challenges you may face. One of the group hosts highlighted an organisation called AHEAD, who run a work placement programme called WAM. I had never heard of WAM before, but I didn't know exactly how they worked. So, I did some research and signed up to the WAMWorks database so that I could receive notifications of any upcoming job opportunities..

Tessa Lyons standing beside a podium at the WAM Leaders Award in 2022. Tessa has shoulder length blonde hair and is wearing a white dress with black spots.

As my Masters' was finishing, a job opportunity popped up through WAM for Innopharma Education. The role was for a Data Analysis Coordinator – I thought "perfect"!

I took a risk and applied for the role even though Innopharma Education is based in Dublin and I live in Galway. But it was lockdown, so I said sure look, the interview process will stand to me, if nothing else.

Low and behold I was interviewed by practically two neighbours of mine who I had actually never met!  It was nerve-wrecking but felt right in a way.

I got the call; "You got the job!". I still can’t believe it now – a six-month contract. I started in October 2021 and had the guidance of The WAM Team and my WAM Mentor at Innopharma to help me along the way and of course my line manager and was a huge support to me, helping me settle in. I met the team through an MS Teams call from home as we were in that grey area of lockdowns and Covid cases rising. I enjoyed it all the same as everyone was a Team’s call away if I needed anything.

Everyone welcomed me in and I felt like part of the team straight away. 

Within three months, Innopharma asked me to help one of our programme managers and take on a Programme Administrator role as well as my Data Analyst role. The fact they wanted me to expand within the company meant so much and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into the challenge this new role would bring.

Six months had come, and I got a contract extension. Wow! I couldn’t believe they wanted to keep me on for another six months.

I am and always will be so grateful for the WAM programme and Innopharma Education for giving me this opportunity to show that I am capable of doing the job, and I would hope that current or new employers will see their WAM graduates grow in their own roles. It is such a rewarding feeling to be here, to have Innopharma and my colleagues here to celebrate a brilliant initiative. WAM placements are more effective than you might think, so hopefully more graduates can avail of them for many years to come. The ultimate goal is to break any stigma around people with disabilities not being able to meet standards but I think it’s safe to say – we can do it, given the chance!!

My journey with Innopharma Education is only starting as I will become a permanent member of staff next month. My journey has come full circle and I can’t wait to see what projects and challenges we face as a team in the coming year.

Blog Author

Tessa Lyons is a Data Analysis Coordinator at Innoharma Education.

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