SINGAPORE — To help people with disabilities find employment, the Government is setting aside S$30 million to expand a programme that helps employers make adjustments to jobs and workplaces to accommodate those with special needs.
Previously called the Open Door Fund, the Open Door Programme (ODP) will support not only new hires but also job redesign, workplace accommodation and training for existing employees to help them stay in their jobs. The funding cap of S$100,000 per company has also been removed, so employers can “do even more”, said Minister of Social and Family Development, Chan Chun Sing, at the Enabling Employers Awards Gala Dinner yesterday evening.
A free online recruitment portal has also been launched to connect jobseekers with disabilities with firms looking to hire them.
The Open Door Fund was launched in 2007 by the Workforce Development Authority and focused on workplace or job modifications to suit new hires with disabilities, as well as support for apprenticeships. It has been tapped by 350 companies which, in turn, created 1,300 job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Yesterday, Mr Chan said the ODP would provide a wider and deeper range of employment services and cover more areas of need. “For employers, it will support consultancy, training and other efforts aimed at bringing people with disabilities into the workplace and raising their effectiveness. For example, an employer can receiving funding to organise training for its wider workforce to learn how to better interact with and accommodate colleagues with special needs,” he said.
Mr Chan cited the example of a food-and-beverage company currently working with SG Enable to carve out parts of the food-preparation process that people with disabilities can handle well. One such role, he said, could be in making mashed potatoes. “The best mashed potatoes, I heard, are made by hand,” he quipped.
For people with disabilities, there will be support for pre-employment training and vocational training, as well as internships for those studying at local universities. SG Enable will also work with training providers and voluntary welfare organisations to identify and develop suitable training courses.
Mr Chan added that more companies are now interested in hiring people with disabilities, including in professional, managerial and executive positions, and SG Enable would also be aiming to secure more PME position, so those with advanced qualifications can find jobs that commensurate with their skills and aspirations.
Ms Ku Geok Boon, CEO of SG Enable, the agency administering the ODP, said the programme is no longer only about helping people with disabilities get jobs, but to also help them grow with and contribute to the company. Hence, there will be funding to train employees in how to better interact with their counterparts with special needs. This is to give them confidence, etiquette and awareness to interact with people with disabilities.
“We feel the ODF has achieved outcomes we hope to see but, to really reach the next level of hiring, we feel pretty strongly that we should do (the ODP expansion),” she said. “We can’t rest on our laurels and think the ODF is enough.”
Improving interaction with co-workers is an issue Mr Koh Seng Choon, Executive Director of Dignity Kitchen, feels is extremely important. “The biggest problem is co-workers. Some trainees get sent back to me after two to three days because colleagues and supervisors find it difficult to work with people with disabilities,” he said.
At Dignity Kitchen, which runs a hawker centre and two bookshops, and trains youth with intellectual disabilities in food preparation, cooking and service support before placing them in jobs, Mr Koh estimated he has a success rate of about 50 per cent for a first-time placement, of the 200 people he has trained and placed.
SG Enable expects the scheme to benefit about 4,000 people with disabilities and 1,000 employers, with about 2,500 individuals receiving direct job placement and support.