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AT A time when many businesses here are facing a persistent labour crunch, a new platform to promote the hiring of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Singapore will bring together like-minded employers who are keen to tap this alternative pool of talent.
The inaugural Inclusive Business Forum (IBF) being held on Feb 26 will feature discussions and the sharing of best practices when it comes to hiring PWDs. It will also provide employers with resources and toolkits to assist them in the hiring and integration of such workers.
The event, which is organised by agency SG Enable, looks to overcome the obstacles that employers face in this area - whether it is a lack of knowledge and confidence when working with PWDs or not being aware of assistive and other information technologies that can help overcome barriers in the workplace.
Set up in July 2013, SG Enable is dedicated to enabling PWDs. Among other roles, it works towards enhancing employability and employment options for such individuals.
"The Inclusive Business Forum brings together like-minded employers to network and exchange best practices in inclusive hiring. Through the forum, SG Enable hopes to create greater awareness and interest among employers to hire, train and retain persons with disabilities in their workforce," said Ku Geok Boon, chief executive officer of SG Enable.
"Work is dignity and employment is empowering. Through SG Enable's various efforts, we hope more employers will be encouraged to hire persons with disabilities and develop all staff to their fullest potential."
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will grace IBF as the guest of honour. It will also feature six panellists who will share their experiences of hiring or working with PWDs. They are made up of representatives from MOH Holdings, Eureka Call Centre Systems, Deutsche Bank, Singtel, AIG Asia-Pacific and UOB.
Some 200 participating employers are expected to take part in IBF and make a commitment towards inclusive hiring. These participants are part of the Singapore Business Network on DisAbility (SBND) and newly appointed members of the Enabling Employers Network (EEN) Committee. Other employers interested in hiring PWDs will also be invited.
A newly formed initiative led by Deutsche Bank and Singtel, SBND is a group of multinational corporations that have come together to help promote the inclusion of PWDs in the workplace and create stronger awareness among business leaders of their employment.
The EEN, meanwhile, is an alliance of employers who champion employment opportunities for disabled persons. Since 2009, EEN members have been encouraging their industry peers to employ PWDs and include them as part of their workforce.
ENABLING MEANINGFUL EMPLOYMENT
Since its founding, SG Enable has significantly expanded its services and supported the introduction of new schemes, such as the government-funded public transport concession for persons with disabilities. In its financial year 2014 (FY14), the agency served an estimated 12,000 PWDs, more than double the number in the previous year.
SG Enable focuses on four broad areas: enhancing the employability of PWDs through work preparation and training; working with employers to create more employment opportunities; undertaking job placement and job support; and piloting new models to enable more PWDs to find meaningful jobs.
The results of the organisation's efforts have been encouraging so far. SG Enable and its partners - including the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) and the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) - have succeeded in placing more than 650 persons with disabilities in jobs.
SG Enable also launched the Open Door Programme (ODP) in FY14 with some S$30 million over three years from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). ODP provides funding support for employment facilitation and capability development services for job-seekers, employees and employers.
For employers, ODP supports consultancy and training aimed at hiring and integrating PWDs.
Meanwhile, the initiative helps PWDs to prepare for and sustain employment through work preparation, pre-employment training and continuing education and training (CET). Some 300 PWDs and 800 staff from various companies took part in training courses supported by ODP in FY14.
A COMMUNITY SPACE FOR PWDS
The inaugural IBF is being held on Friday at the Enabling Village (EV), which was officially launched on Dec 2, 2015 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. EV is a 30,000 sq m community space dedicated to serving the needs of PWDs.
Set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable, the facility aims to provide better employment and social integration for PWDs, enabling them to lead more independent lives.
EV works with voluntary welfare organisations to provide career counselling, medical assessment and job matching services to jobseekers with disabilities and their caregivers. It is also home to SG Enable's Job Placement & Job Support office, which provides career guidance and medical assessment to jobseekers.
"The Enabling Village is an inclusive and accessible community space. For persons with disabilities, it offers a host of career-related services, training programmes and facilities. These include career assessment and consultancy, job placement and support, and vocational skills training conducted at authentic worksites and training centres," said Ms Ku.
She noted that SG Enable also runs Disability Management Workshops in the village that allow employers, human resource personnel and co-workers to gain a better understanding of the hiring and integration of PWDs at the workplace.
"Through these programmes, we hope to enhance the employability and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities across a wide range of industries," she said.
EV combines retail, lifestyle and training for disabled members of the community in an all-accessible public space. The space is retrofitted from a former school compound and has been extensively redesigned so that it can accommodate wheelchair users. For instance, lifts have been installed at multi-storey blocks, while steps have been replaced by ramps.
Meanwhile, key signages such as washroom doors and staircase handrails have braille lettering to allow blind users to use touch to move about independently.
Several social businesses that balance commercial success with the social goal of building an inclusive society are also housed in the village. Both able-bodied and disabled individuals staff these.
According to the EV website, the community space "seeks to inspire and nurture the human spirit". "We and our partners are staffed by people diverse in abilities, skills and ideas. But we do have one thing in common: we understand that each person brings a distinct life experience to the table."