In today’s tight labour market, either due to their physical or mental condition, people with special needs are an under-tapped source of manpower.
This was the key message brought up at the first Fostering Inclusion at The Workplace seminar. Held on Thursday (Jul 20), the event was attended by 160 business leaders from 80 companies.
Autism Resource Centre (ARC) president Denise Phua, who is also an MP for Jalan Besar GRC and Central Singapore District mayor, stated that bringing in people with special needs on board would be a win for everyone.
“The employers and tight labour market can tap on an underexplored manpower pool. If we train and support people with disabilities well, many of them can work,” explained Ms Phua, who was a panellist at the forum. She is also a co-founder of the Pathlight School – Singapore’s first school for children with autism.
According to companies which already have an inclusive work policy, the trick to implement and foster smooth inclusion is to match jobs with the strengths of such workers, Straits Times reports.
One good example will be United Overseas Bank, which has 19 staff with autism in a 56-man team at its Scan Hub, a division responsible to scan and classify customer’s documents. Managing director and head of group technology and operations, Susan Hwee said that these employees have high levels of attention to detail and concentration. This explains why they are perfect for the tasks of sorting and scanning documents. Not to mention, they are also engaged in their job and highly motivated.
Another company which has been hiring people with disabilities is FairPrice. Since 1983, they have been committed to realise inclusive workplace. Now, the company has about 50 such staff who are mostly assigned to work with merchandising, displaying and replenishing stock. Mr Tan Ying, deputy director and head of HR partnering at FairPrice, stated that the company employ them according to their capabilities. For instance, “One of them is very good at remembering stocks and he knows exactly which aisle lacks the goods that should be displayed there,” he said.
Meanwhile, ARC has placed about 150 people with disabilities in employment, with nine in 10 still in their jobs. The organisation started its Employability and Employment Centre programme in 2012, which successfully placed 20 to 30 people in each of the first three years. From there, Ms Jacelyn Lim, ARC’s deputy executive director and head of the Employability and Employment Centre said that the number has increased to close to 50 clients each year.
Public schemes such as Open Door Programme are also designed to help firms which hire those with disabilities. The initiative provides training grants for firms to develop customised programmes for people with disabilities.
However, while copious schemes and initiatives are available, hiring people with special needs is not without challenges. For example, there might be times where managers and other employees resist the management’s decision to hire such staff due to uncomfortable feeling of having colleagues who are disabled.
“We had an employee who asked questions hourly and it was too draining for the manager after a month,” Mr Tan recalled. “It calls for a lot of patience and empathy.”
Mr Gino Tan, Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s area general manager for Singapore, said, “We have various townhall sessions to tackle this so that everyone can… be cognisant of the need for adjustments.”
Pan Pacific Hotels Group, which organised the forum, has trained more than 30 staff with disabilities.