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More companies in S'pore training and hiring people with disabilities

SINGAPORE – She needed more time to learn skills and adjust to new activities, but that did not stop Ms Florence Lin, 21, from taking on several roles – as athlete, musician, employee and student.

Ms Lin, a student at APSN Delta Senior School diagnosed with mild intellectual disability, is an athlete leader with the Special Olympics – the world’s largest sports organisation for people with intellectual and physical disabilities – and a performer in the Purple Symphony, the first inclusive orchestra in Singapore comprising musicians with and without special needs.

She was also one of 10 students who took part in a programme by APSN and Uniqlo which offers training to final-year students of the retail operations course at the social service agency.

Through the programme, she joined Uniqlo in July 2019 and became a full-time employee in January this year.

At work, Ms Lin prepares stock, helps to manage the stock room, runs items to the sales floor and attends to customers.

She enjoys her daily tasks, but what makes the job fulfilling are her colleagues, she said. “I enjoy the working environment in Uniqlo and making friends with the rest of the team members. The team treats me just like any other colleague. I especially love that my daily tasks at work are diverse and I get to contribute to the team in different ways,” she added.

Since 2017, 10 APSN students have been trained under the programme, and three of them were offered permanent employment by Uniqlo. The company now has more than 30 employees with disabilities in its Singapore stores.

In the past three months, businesses such as Certis Cisco, IHG Hotels and Resorts, and Grab have inked deals with organisations helping persons with disabilities.

In January, security firm Certis Cisco will conduct the second edition of its initiative Breaking Barriers, which equips persons with disabilities with customer care skills.

More than 50 employees and beneficiaries from SPD, formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled, have enrolled in the eight-month programme.

It includes customer handling skills and case studies to help participants visualise potential scenarios.

Certis chief corporate and human resources officer Tan Toi Chia said: “Through (the initiative), Certis seeks to help SPD and their beneficiaries navigate this challenging climate, and acquire useful skills as our economy opens up.”

Certis staff also organise fitness, and music and dance sessions for SPD clients.

An APSN spokesman told The Straits Times that it currently partners nearly 100 companies in sectors such as hospitality and horticulture to train and employ its special needs students and trainees.

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She said employers often think APSN students and trainees are capable of only menial tasks such as product packing or area cleaning.

“Through quality vocational training and realistic on-the-job training, many of our beneficiaries (the high-functioning ones) have been trained to take on more elaborate responsibilities at work, such as cooking, cashiering or even customer service,” she said.

“We often receive positive feedback from our corporate partners that our students and trainees have proven to be consistent and reliable, with strong work ethics and attitudes.”

But while the number of employers welcoming special needs students in the workplace has increased over the years, she noted that this rise has been gentler over the past two years, given the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

In Parliament in March, then Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a written reply to a question related to finding employment for persons with disabilities, that the average employment rate for resident persons with disabilities in the working age of 15 to 64 has been sustained at around 29 per cent, despite the economic downturn last year.

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