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Creating an inclusive society
DAILY activities which may be taken for granted by some pose a challenge for Nur Alfian Hakim Bin Halim.
He said: "Initially, I found bed making and other chores challenging. It was difficult to tuck in the sheets as the mattress was heavy."
But 19-year-old Mr Hakim from MINDS Fernvale Gardens School - who was born with Down Syndrome and has moderate intellectual disability - is now a housekeeping attendant at Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road after participating in Job Shadowing Day and a 3-month Job Attachment Programme.
Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG) worked with special education schools to offer internships before 2015, and in 2016, it started working with SG Enable to take on a more structured approach for inclusive hiring.
Pan Pacific Singapore was the first and only hotel to take part in SG Enable school to work transition programme (Project IN) in 2017.
In addition, PPHG's serviced suites in Singapore has trained more than 30 interns from special education schools such as MINDS and APSN in the last two years.
Currently, 14 persons with disabilities have found full or part-time employment with the PPHG's Singapore properties.
Wee Wei Ling, executive director (asset & lifestyle) of Pan Pacific Hotels Group, said: "The students contribute to productivity, efficiency and manpower. In hospitality, we are always facing manpower shortage. The students are able to contribute effectively to the team and they are in demand."
However, the company has to be mindful in certain areas when working with these students.
"Together with the job coaches, we carve out job scopes for them so they can contribute effectively to the team and the workplace. We have to take note that some of them may be more sensitive to noise, etc. They usually start their training with a buddy system where there will always be a full-time staff attached to the fellow associate."
Mr Hakim's mentor, Salasiah Mahat, assistant housekeeper of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road, said that at the beginning of each student's attachment or training programme, close coaching and supervision is always required but after adequate training, the students are able to carry out simple tasks with minimal supervision.
She added that inclusive hiring has provided a viable solution to manpower challenges by enhancing productivity and building an inclusive work environment.
"Our colleagues with special needs are able to free up existing staff from more mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on other more complex duties. This has also allowed us to review our internal work processes and tailor tasks according to their skill sets. Diversity at our workplace has made work life more enriching and meaningful for us."
Ms Wee said that with inclusive hiring, the company culture is more compassionate, caring and patient.
"Noise levels in the kitchen are reduced so as to be more considerate to the associates."
Moreover, the government has mandated compulsory education for special needs children from this year.
"This means that the workforce must be ready for them when they graduate. There needs to be long-term planning so by the time the children graduate, the community is ready to embrace them. For us, we also educate our staff about disability awareness and involve them in community projects so they have the opportunity to interact with persons with special needs," Ms Wee added.
Before the term corporate social responsibility started hogging the headlines, PPHG was already in the game.
The group's lifestyle brand, Si Chuan Dou Hua restaurant, was involved with Central Singapore Community Development Council about seven years ago to bring cheer to residents during festivals.
Since then, other projects that the group is involved in include Noodles for Good and Eat Well With Us.
Noodles for Good was launched in 2016 collaboratively with Central Singapore CDC, Autism Resource Centre and Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant.
Families with autistic children are taught by chefs how to make noodles and dumplings, and now operate kiosks at Pathlight and Catholic High.
"Tertiary institutions provide the beneficiaries a safe environment to work in. The beneficiaries can be contributing members of society too," said Ms Wee.
Three families are involved in the Noodles for Good at the moment. However, such a project has its logistical challenges.
"Three kiosks are in operations at the moment and we have a volunteer taxi driver who will collect ingredients from our restaurant and send it to them. The community is an important part of this project, which enables the families to earn a dignified living and the parents to see their children becoming more independent," Ms Wee said.
When asked about World Food Day, the executive director (asset & lifestyle), laughed and said: "We really deal with a lot of food."
But on a more serious note, Ms Wee said that a lot of programmes all revolve around food and are linked to the hotel's key businesses so that it can be sustained.
"For the programmes to be sustainable, it must be something that we are good at and familiar with. With corporate expertise, we can do more as we can leverage the resources that we have," she added.
World Food Day was launched in 2015 with National Council of Social Service.
Senior chefs would impart healthy recipes and culinary tips to resident cooks at charity homes, teaching them how to cook tasty and healthy foods that are within their budget.
Ms Wee said: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. We do not just sponsor meals but impart skills which will benefit the homes. This is something unique to the group."
The hotel plans to expand Project IN across all its Singapore properties and explore hiring from additional sources and explore frontline and professional positions for persons with disabilities. The group will also look into the diversion of selected procurement sources to charities or social enterprises that enable the employment of persons with disabilities.
When asked about how to encourage other companies get on board the CSR wagon, Ms Wee said: "Contribute in any way you can, no matter how small. Be it monetary or time or volunteerism, as long as it is sustainable."
- This article is part of a series highlighting inspiring companies that are catalysts of change in corporate giving. The Business Times supports the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre's Company of Good programme as a media partner. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can be a Company of Good, or visit www.companyofgood.sg for more information.