Companies in Singapore looking for service staff can turn to the special needs workforce to boost their manpower, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.
He said this on Friday morning on the sidelines of the opening of coffee giant Starbucks’ first give-back store in Singapore, which currently has six male baristas from the autistic community.
“Many corporations can come on board just by doing a bit of redesigning of their work processes, and then that will open up many doors for people with special needs to participate fully in the community,” he said.
The company has worked with Singapore’s Autism Resource Centre, headed by Member of Parliament Denise Phua, to train the six baristas, the youngest of whom is 17 years old, in tasks like coffee-making, serving customers, clearing tables and washing dishes.
“It’s been a long journey (for Starbucks and the ARC) and requires passionate individuals with a vision,” he said, noting that working with autistic staff requires specialised trainers who can deconstruct tasks into simpler ones for people with special needs to execute.
“It requires corporations with a philosophy that they want to do the outreach to the community beyond just making money, and it also requires a wider policy environment to support such a corporation going forward. So certainly, we hope to spread the message to the rest of the partners for them to come on board as well,” he added.
Separately, Chan said his ministry “would like to work on” providing better support to caregivers of adults with autism, and also provide them with more employment opportunities.
He also, however, called on the public to provide wider support to service staff who are autistic or have other special needs.
“I think we can all play our part by being more patient with them, (and) we can also play our part by affirming them,” he said. “They do very good work and I think on our part as individuals we can do a little bit, just by a simple gesture to thank them, to encourage them and to affirm them in what they have done, and I think that will truly bring the partnership closer for every one of us.”
According to the Employability and Employment Centre (E2C), an ARC subsidiary, less than 20 per cent of people with autism are employed, while thousands of service sector jobs are created here each quarter.