Hiring and working PWDs
Work is a vital form of self-reliance in any society. This holds true for people with disabilities (PWDs) as well. Making up about five per cent of the Singapore population, many have difficulties finding jobs.
PWDs today do not have access to employment on an equal basis with others in Singapore. “Although there are successful professionals with disabilities, they are the exception rather than the norm,” says Nicholas Aw, President of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA).
Still, the situation regarding equal opportunities for PWDs in Singapore is slowly but surely improving, says Benny Ng, General Manager of ABR Holdings.
“Singapore is one of the leading countries in Asia creating awareness and channels in helping PWDs at the national level,” he explains. “Various special needs schools and organisations have helped increase the awareness and understanding of PWDs, which in turn has given employers a better assurance that PWDs can add value to their organisation.”
While there are no employment statistics on the disability population available to compare the rates of PWD employment in Singapore and other Asian countries, government initiatives and funding to in Singapore has certainly been noticeable.
“Singapore has a comprehensive programme, the Open Door Programme, which does in some ways compare to other developed nations in Asia,” says Aw.
In Japan, vocational training centres help with the employability of PWDs and there are government subsidies to support employers in hiring PWDs – much like is available in Singapore. However, Japan also has a quota system that legally mandates that companies’ workforce comprises of at least 1.6% PWDs. Failure to comply results in a financial penalty.
“Such legislation is needed to ensure that all companies make the effort to have inclusive hiring practices,” says Aw. “No such quota system or any other anti-discriminations legislation exists in Singapore.”
Employers can indeed increase the employability of PWDs and ensure that their employment is also valued.
“Potential employers of PWDs can offer more internships, apprenticeships or training schemes to PWDs to help them adjust to and, if offered a permanent role, flourish in the workplace,” says Aw. “Such training schemes are a great levelling tool between those that have had mainstream education and those that have been through Special Education Schools.
“Once employers have hired PWDs, they should then ensure that they are offered on-going skills development and training,” he adds. “This will not only allow PWDs to keep abreast of new developments in their field, but also allow them to keep adding value to the company.”
According to a survey by the Singapore HR Institute (SHRI), of the 20 employers who have had experience employing PWDs, 95% said that those employees satisfied or exceeded their performance expectations.
The DPA’s own experience tallies with those survey findings. “Given the opportunity, PWDs can show themselves to be just as capable as any other employee,” says Aw. “Moreover, due to the fact that many PWDs have had to learn to adapt to and overcome obstacles in their everyday lives, they can often show themselves to be dedicated and resourceful employees.”
Ng agrees. “Based on the experiences we had with the Association for Persons with Special Needs, we are satisfied with their contributions,” he says.
“In fact, most of their work performances exceeded our expectations.”
ABR Holdings – which manages a number of food and beverage brands in Singapore, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Metta School, extending its existing partnership by another two years. In 2013, the school started with four students placed in Swensen’s for the School-To-Work Programme. The following year, another seven students were seconded on various work attachment programmes.
“Skills such as hospitality, food preparation and workplace literacy have been taught,” says Ng.
“It is a great opportunity to be able to work with Metta School,” he adds. “We not only provide them with a platform encompassing real work experiences, it also allows us to learn from them and be part of the ‘Care for Community’ journey.”
Ng says employers should keep an open mind and heart when looking to hire and work with PWDs. “Give these individuals a chance and in turn, we ourselves can better understand and learn from them too.”
Other than company internships, apprenticeships or training, PWDs can also access vocational training available from SG Enable and voluntary welfare organisations.
Working with PWDs involves integrating them with other staff members within the organisation. “There are many companies with inclusive practices who share their HR policies on their websites, and a few examples include sensitivity training for staff members and having social events that are inclusive to give an opportunity for employees with and without disabilities to mingle and get to know each other better,” says Aw.
For more advice, DPA encourages companies to engage with voluntary welfare organisations and SG Enable.
DPA recently collaborated with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAPFEP) to publish Exceptional Journeys, a book that highlights the employment stories of ten PWDs and their organisations. It can be downloaded from TAFEP’s website free of charge.
“Two companies from that book that I’d like to highlight are Absolute Kinetics Consultancy and Man Diesel and Turbo Singapore,” says Aw.
Although Absolute Kinetics Consultancy only has one employee with a disability, it plans to increase its workplace diversity by employing more PWDs and also starting to hire ex-offenders.
Man Diesel and Turbo Singapore is a good example of a company that adapted its workplace for an employee who acquired a disability. The company also re-designed the job to suit his abilities and needs.
SG Enable is more than willing to help in all aspects of hiring a PWD, including sourcing for candidates, auditing the workplace, and assisting with funding applications, says Aw. The organisation also provides support to both employee and employer for at least six months.
“Hiring a PWD is a great thing for a company to do because a diverse workplace contributes to the level of innovation and new ideas in the workforce,” he explains. “It may also help a company broaden its customer base to include disabled clients because there is no better way to show that a company caters to their needs than having the company be comprised of PWDs.”
Myths of working with PWDs
People with disabilities (PWDs) are often misunderstood at work. Nicholas Aw, President, Disabled People’s Association, shares some myths and facts:
PWDs are given special treatment or privileges at work.
It may be the case that a PWD is qualified and capable to doing a particular job, but needs some accommodations either in the office workplace or in their job design in order to do their work. For example, an employee who is hearing impaired may need to communicate with his clients over e-mail and via text messages, but is otherwise able to fulfil his job deliverables. This is a case of reasonable accommodation, and not special treatment.
PWDs should not be given an unfair advantage over colleagues or have performance expectations lowered for them. Instead accommodations should be made to remove the barriers that inhibit or make it difficult for that PWD to do their job.
PWDs cost a company more to hire than persons without disabilities.
The Open Door Programme offers up to 90% subsidies for a number of workplace accommodations including the purchase of assistive technology, sensitivity training and renovations to make sure the environment is accessible. The Singapore Government also offers tax incentives for those companies who hire PWDs.
Taken together, these schemes compensate for the costs that are incurred in readying a workplace for a PWD. Sometimes there are very little modifications needed to hire a PWD and thus there is hardly any cost, if any, associated with having an employee with a disability.
PWDs should be paid less than other employees because they cannot do as much as their non-disabled colleagues.
PWDs should be paid for fulfilling the functions that are essential to do their job and not paid less because they need some accommodations in order to do that job.
10 tips to a more inclusive workplace for PWDs
Source: TAFEP – Enabling Employers Awards 2014
Enabling Employers Awards 2014
Leading Employer Award: Han’s
Han’s Managing Director Han Choon Fook, believes that the ideal work environment for employees with disabilities comes about by providing a backbone of technology and training and, at its heart, a warm and communicative culture.
Technology and training, he says, form the ‘hardware’ backbone, allowing Han’s 54 special needs employees across its 26 restaurants to perform tasks better and serve customers well.
“We upgrade our technology and train this group of employees to handle these technology tools,” said Han.
For instance, pictures of food menu items are included in the Han’s point-of-sales system to make it easier for employees with disabilities to recognise the items. Large fonts on its handheld wireless ordering tablets are also more user-friendly for their employees with disabilities.
Such efforts do not just begin at the workplace, but at the 13 Special Education schools and welfare associations it works with. Han’s provides training for their students, and offers voluntary consultancy services at one school, such as advising on the type of cafe which would be suitable at its premises, and how to prepare menus and set up the cafe. To enhance their training facilities, Han’s even provides its old point-of-sales systems and printers to a few schools. “This is to enable them to train their students, so they are able to adapt to our equipment faster when they start work,” said Han.
At Han’s own training sessions, the training manuals also come in easy-to-read format with step by step instructions on how to prepare dishes.
Culture, however, is the key to integrating persons with disabilities into Han’s workplace.
“The mind-set is very important; we treat them as one of our family members, and send a very strong message to our outlet managers that regular communications with them is very important during day-to-day operations,” said Han.
Source: SG Enable