The Ahead Journal


A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

Pathway to permanent Civil Service employment for graduates with disabilities

Deirdre Moore

WAM Coordinator. AHEAD


About the Author


AHEAD’S WAM Programme has a well-established partnership with the Irish Civil Service, offering paid and mentored graduate placements for people with disabilities. In 2022 a route to permanency for WAM Civil Service graduates was established and trialled as a pilot. As a result of this pilot, 17 WAM graduates who had successfully completed a WAM placement with the Civil Service in 2022 moved into permanent Executive Officer (EO) roles.

The Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) Programme is a work placement programme which aims to promote access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities and build the capacity of Irish employers to integrate disability into the mainstream workplace. Participating employers (WAM Leaders) collaborate with WAM to offer mentored, paid, work placements for graduates with disabilities. This partnership brings graduates with disabilities and employers together so that both can benefit from each other – ensuring genuine learning opportunities for all. WAM is unique in that it seeks to engage and support employers in order to develop their potential to be inclusive, while simultaneously offering graduates with disabilities fantastic career opportunities in a supportive environment.

WAM was established in 2005 and is funded by the Department of Social Protection. The Civil Service were one of the first employers to participate in The WAM Programme. In this initial partnership 15 graduates with disabilities secured some of the first ever six-months paid and mentored Civil Service WAM Placements at Executive Officer level. AHEAD now has a long-standing and very successful partnership with the Civil Service and as of 2023, a total of 287 WAM graduates have been placed with various Civil Service employers across Ireland. An average of 20 Civil Service employers annually across Ireland express interest in offering WAM placements for graduates with disabilities. It is the most anticipated recruitment campaign in the WAM calendar, and year-on-year receives the highest number of applications from graduates with disabilities seeking employment.  

The AHEAD-WAM recruitment campaign for Civil Service WAM Placements is conducted in collaboration with Public Appointment Services (PAS) and Department for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform (DPENDR).  In order to apply for a Civil Service WAM Placement, candidates must have a disability and meet the eligibility criteria for Executive Officer level positions set out by PAS. PAS facilitates the recruitment by shortlisting and interviewing. Candidates successful at interview are then placed on a panel in order of merit. 
From this panel and following the order of merit, WAM coordinates the allocation of placements to suitable and interested Civil Service employers. In doing this, WAM works closely with the Disability Liaison Officers (DLO), managers and mentors of each participating Civil Service employer to provide pre-placement training, comprehensive needs assessments with the successful graduate and ongoing support for all parties throughout the placement.

Between 2006 – 2023, 287 graduates with disabilities have secured WAM Placements with a Civil Service employer

A Spotlight on the Route to Permanency

This article sets out to share with readers the significance of the newly established route to permanency for graduates with disabilities undergoing a WAM placement within the Civil Service. It is important to note the instigation and the development of this initiative would not have happened without the strong foundations already laid by the AHEAD Civil Service partnership and the success of the annual WAM placements over the previous 15+ years.

To read more about the history of the AHEAD and Civil Service partnership the Building Inclusive Workplaces – Civil Service-AHEAD publication documents the establishment of the partnership. Additionally, this publication details the level of engagement and experiences between AHEAD and the Civil Service over the first thirteen years of The WAM Programme (2005-2018).

Background to the Route to Permanency

In Ireland, there are several pieces of legislation and national policies regarding the employment of people with disabilities in the public sector. The Disability Act 2005 places an obligation on public bodies to consider and respond to the needs of people with disabilities. Under the Act, public sector bodies (e.g., local authorities, Civil Service, and the Health Service Executive) must have a minimum 3% of the workforce comprising of people with disabilities. More recently under the Comprehensive Strategy for People with Disabilities (2015 – 2024), and National Disability Inclusion Strategy (2017 – 2022), the Government committed to increasing the public service employment target for persons with disabilities on an incremental basis from a minimum of 3% to a minimum of 6% by 2025.

Engagement with the WAM Programme is considered a positive action measure in relation to the employment of people with disabilities and creating a more inclusive and disability friendly organisation.   The Civil Service WAM placements have proven to be an extremely successful means for graduates with disabilities to gain graduate level employment, relevant workplace experience and skills for future employment. Recent figures from The WAM Programme Statistics 2023 show that:

‘92% of graduates gained confidence in their ability to work in mainstream environments’ and ‘81% of WAM graduates secured employment as a direct result of WAM’ (AHEAD, 2024). 

The feedback from staff working for various Civil Service employers has also been overwhelmingly positive. In particular, staff engaged with WAM have highlighted the significant contribution graduates make during their six-month placement and the learning and development of colleagues and management in relation to disability in the workplace. Throughout the years, staff have also expressed disappointment in not being able to retain their WAM graduates beyond the standard six-month placement. In the early days of AHEAD’s partnership with the Civil Service, successful graduates who had been trained into the EO role and were contributing significantly to the work of their department had no means by which to transition into a permanent role with the Civil Service. In some cases, prior to the establishment of the permanency pathway, a short extension (usually three to six months) was granted for a WAM graduate. However, transitioning into a permanent role was not possible due to the standard recruitment requirements for the Civil Service. Meaning, if WAM graduates were interested in a Civil Service career, they had to compete for open mainstream competitions through PAS, availing of reasonable accommodations if appropriate. 

"The Civil Service is very proud of its engagement with the WAM Programme. Over the years graduates have gained valuable work experience in the Civil Service, and in turn, the Civil Service has gained much from the graduates’ contribution to and participation in our workforce."

- Chief Human Resources Officer, Civil Service – Building Inclusive Workplaces Publication, 2018

The idea to scope out a pilot route to permanency after the WAM placement was developed to recognise the ongoing success of placements and the suitability of graduates with disabilities to take up full-time permanent roles. Furthermore, the pathway facilitates the Civil Service’s commitment to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in the public sector.  

Civil Service Pathway for WAM Graduates

What exactly was the pilot route to permanency?

The possibility of a permanency pathway was first raised with AHEAD by DPENDR and the then Chair of DLO Network in late 2017. Initial discussions were held in 2018 and the idea was revisited again in early 2020 following an increased trend of Civil Service employers requesting extensions for the graduates completing a WAM placement. At this time there was a keen interest from AHEAD, PAS and DPENDR to respond and advance the Civil Service WAM partnership to include longer term employment of graduates with disabilities. AHEAD and DPENDR engaged in discussions to look at the feasibility of creating a pathway for WAM graduates who complete a WAM placement in the Civil Service and develop a means by which WAM graduates may apply for permanent employment at Executive Officer (EO) grade via closed competitions.

The arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020 delayed progress on this and almost a year later in early 2021 AHEAD, PAS and DPENDR reconnected on the idea and commenced detailed planning to scope out a potential pilot route to permanency. Throughout 2021 and early 2022, the Civil Service Stakeholder group, which consisted of representation from AHEAD, PAS and DPENDR, progressed this initiative and worked closely to map out the confined competition processes and develop the supporting materials, training and documentation for all parties involved. During this process, consultation and presentations were also delivered to other stakeholders including the DLO Network, the Civil Service HR Network and other local Civil Service employers.

Engagement with the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA) and the Trade Unions were vital to ensure that the pathway process and the associated supporting documentation would not have any implication on current stakeholder procedures and practices, particularly other placement programmes and existing panels in the Civil Service. The language used in relation to the pilot route to permanency was very important and required lengthy collaboration between all stakeholders before seeking approval by the relevant bodies.

In March 2022, WAM commenced advertising WAM Civil Service Placements at EO level and it was for this campaign that placements were extended from six-months to seven-months as a means to allow sufficient turnaround time for the pathway should it be approved. WAM graduates who were allocated a placement commenced in July 2022 and shortly after this, the pilot pathway to permanency received final approval to move forward.

What did the confined competition look like?

A separate confined competition for graduates who commenced and went on to successfully complete their seven-month Civil WAM placement was developed. WAM graduates who wished to pursue permanency had to officially apply for the confined competition. The was managed by PAS and comprised of three parts:

Stage 1 – Line Manager’s Assessment

Assessment forms were issued to the direct line managers of the WAM candidates at two different points during the WAM placement. These assessments sought to evaluate the WAM candidates’ performance and development in line with the key EO competencies as they progressed through the placement. Candidates were required to pass their second assessment at a certain level in order to move forward to the final stages of the competition.

Stage 2 – Situational Judgement Exercise

The situational judgement exercise identified how the WAM candidate would handle and react to certain situations in the workplace. The Assessment Unit from PAS redeveloped the standard competency exercise to be more inclusive of people with disabilities and to address the barriers that such tests can present. 

Stage 3 – Competency Based Interview

The final stage of competition involved a competency-based interview focused on the key EO competencies.

All WAM candidates were asked at each stage of the recruitment process if they required any reasonable accommodations, and these were implemented by PAS. The WAM Programme also supported the confined competition through regular communication with the WAM graduates participating in the process, with managers and with the DLOs. In addition to this, a bootcamp run by GetAHEAD and WAM, was delivered to graduates and fielded general questions from WAM candidates pursuing permanency within the Civil Service. 


In this pilot pathway, 21 WAM graduates applied for the confined competition, 19 graduates made it to Stage 3 and all 19 successfully passed the final stage making them eligible to proceed with the pathway. As a result of this pilot pathway to permanency 89% of these WAM graduates on placement within the Civil Service secured a permanent EO position which commenced in February 2023. Furthermore, the vast majority of these successful graduates remained with the same Civil Service employer with whom they had completed their initial WAM placement.  

"We signed up for the WAM program as we had a vacancy on our team, and the program seemed like a perfect benefit both to ourselves and to the candidate. The experience has far exceeded our expectations. We have not only gained an excellent worker, but a valued and respected co-worker. We were thrilled we could keep our WAM candidate on permanently, and I would recommend the programme to everyone as a great way to get a dedicated worker."

- Line Manager, Civil Service Department (WAM Placement 2022-23)

"I applied for the confined competition for an Executive Officer position and in the final month of my WAM placement I got the news that I was successful for a permanent position within the Civil Service. I can safely say that I would not be nearly as successful without the support of AHEAD. I am now a full-time, permanent Civil Servant using my Science degree for the safety and welfare of the Irish public and I literally could not be happier!"

- WAM Graduate, Civil Service Department (WAM Placement 2022-23)

Future - what next?

AHEAD believes this pilot was a huge success and a testament to the dedication and immense work by the various stakeholders involved in getting this over the line. There were valuable learnings along the way as well as reflections on what could be improved going forward and AHEAD, PAS and DPENDR met in March 2023 to review and capture these. 

Following the initial pilot of the permanency pathway, some revisions to the timeline and length of the WAM Civil Service placements were adjusted to allow for more flexibility in turnaround times and to enable the graduates to secure more work experience prior to the closed competition. 

The pathway is currently in its second iteration. In September 2023, 21 graduates with disabilities commenced placements in 15 Civil Service employers across 12 counties in Ireland. It is expected all these graduates will apply for permanency in the Civil Service through the confined competition which will run in 2024. 
The pathway is considered a pivotal point in the expansion of the work of WAM to promote access to the labour market for graduates with disabilities and build capacity in Irish employers to integrate disability into their mainstream workplace. It is anticipated that this Civil Service pathway will grow in strength in the coming years and be the inspiration for other employers to consider what else they can do to create more inclusive recruitment and opportunities for employees with disabilities. 

Let’s continue to create new opportunities for graduates and employers both in the public and private sector!!!!

If you are a graduate with a disability and want to receive information or apply for future Civil Service WAM placements and other job and event alerts you can join the WAMWorks Database - AHEAD.


The accomplishment of this pathway to permanency was achieved through the collective effort and contribution from the many stakeholders involved. AHEAD would like to thank each of the stakeholders for their individual and unique contribution which has been crucial in achieving the collective goal. Along the journey there have been many individuals whose time and work contributed to the progress and completion of this pathway, thank you to each of those people and a special mention to the pilot pathway pioneers Rob O’Toole (DPENDR) and former colleagues Eddie Joyce and Michael McKeown; Amanda Kavanagh and Mark Whelan (PAS); Caroline McGrotty and Dara Ryder (AHEAD), all of their leadership, drive and dedication was instrumental to this feat. But most of all, thank you to the WAM graduates; past, present and those to come in future years.

Stakeholder List

The Civil Service is a large complex organisation employing nearly 42,000 people in over 40 Government Departments and Offices with a diverse set of responsibilities to support the Government by developing policy options and legislation to address major national issues, co-ordinating the broader public service, helping to manage the economy and delivering services to the public.

The Public Appointments Service (PAS) is the centralised independent recruitment provider for the Civil and Public Service and will conduct the selection process for this competition on behalf of all Civil Service employers.  PAS will establish a panel of suitably qualified individuals to fill future vacancies which may arise in the Civil Service.

The Department for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform (DPENDR) works from the centre of Government to drive the delivery of better public services, living standards and infrastructure for the people of Ireland.

Executive Officers are employed in all Government Departments/Offices covering a wide range of functional responsibilities.  The grade of Executive Officer is the entry level to junior management in the Civil Service.

All Civil Service departments and offices are required to appoint a Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) who acts as a point of contact for civil servants with disabilities, their managers, and personnel units. The DLO assists and supports civil servants with disabilities, in confidence, and their line managers by providing necessary information, appropriate contacts, guidance, suggestions, and advice. The DLO also facilitates increased awareness of disability throughout the organization and attends meetings of the Civil Service Disability Liaison Officers Network.

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