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Singapore Government

Speech at Enabling Employers Awards 2014

Speech at Enabling Employers Awards 2014

Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister’s Office), Mr Heng Chee How,

Chairman of the Enabling Employers Network Mr Shantha de Silva,
    
Enabling Employers Network members,

SG Enable Board Members,

Distinguished guests,

Tonight, we applaud the individuals and companies who are role models.  They have demonstrated that persons with disabilities – when given the opportunity and support – can be capable contributors to our workforce. 

Ms Jacqueline Woo , an NUS undergrad, has dystonia – a condition which affects her speech and mobility, but not her spirit. She said, “Like my non-disabled peers, I wish to do well in my studies and secure a good job. But more than that, I also dream of paying it forward by helping others who face difficulties in life.”

We all aspire to make Singapore a more inclusive society for Singaporeans like Jacqueline.  Over the last decade, the government has extended more support to persons with disabilities. Just earlier this year, we announced a new set of transport initiatives to reduce the cost of transport for persons with disabilities, subsidy increases for early intervention programmes for preschool children with special needs, and an increase in tax reliefs for persons with handicapped dependents.

IMPORTANCE OF EMPLOYMENT

Employment is one key area to enable persons with disabilities to live fulfilling lives. This was identified as a priority area under our Enabling Masterplan. A job is a means of livelihood and financial security. But a job is more than that. It also enables one to contribute and feel useful to society. It also provides opportunities for social interactions and friendships.

Mr Lai Bo Cheng, a graduate from Metta School, was employed in 2011 by Mandarin Orchard hotel as a doorman. Mr Lai takes great pride in his work. Every day, he comes up with a new greeting and practices it in front of the mirror, so as to get it just right. Hotel guests are so impressed that they have complimented him on travel review websites like Trip Advisor. Mr Lai has been promoted to a driveway ambassador for the hotel.   

To have more such real life stories, the government has made effort to reduce the barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. Special Education Curriculum has been reviewed to place more focus on vocational and employability skills. The Special Employment Credit and Workfare Income Supplement support employers and persons with disabilities. We are improving physical accessibility in our transport system and buildings, and reducing transport costs for persons with disabilities. In July last year, my Ministry established SG Enable – an agency which focuses on the needs of persons with disabilities, including their employment.

MORE TO BE DONE

Still, we can do more, especially in widening the continuum of job options for individuals with varying disability profiles and capabilities. I have asked SG Enable to pilot new supported employment models and customised employment projects to suit different needs. Existing jobs may need to be reconfigured to suit the individuals, or tasks repackaged to match their abilities. For example, an F&B company is working with SG Enable to carve out more routine parts of the food preparation process that persons with disabilities can handle well, such as making mashed potatoes. If you are a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, you would know that the best ones are made by hand.

I have also asked SG Enable to secure more Professional, Managerial and Executive, or PME, positions. This is so that persons with disabilities with advanced qualifications like degrees and diplomas can find jobs that commensurate with their skills and aspirations.

SG Enable tells me that more companies are now interested in hiring persons with disabilities, including those in PME positions. To take advantage of this rising interest, we have decided to provide employers and persons with disabilities better job and training support.  

NEW “OPEN DOOR PROGRAMME” (ODP)


In 2007, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) set up the Open Door Fund. This provides employers financial support to defray the cost of running apprenticeships or making workplace and job modifications when they hire a person with disabilities.

I am pleased to announce that WDA and SG Enable will revamp and expand the ODF into a more impactful programme. Over the next 3 years, the government will invest about $30 mil into the “Open Door Programme”, or ODP for short. The fund comes primarily from WDA and is supplemented by MSF. SG Enable will administer the new programme.

For Employers

The ODP will provide a wider and deeper range of employment services to cover more areas of need.  For employers, it will support consultancy, training and other efforts aimed at bringing persons with disabilities into the workplace and raising their effectiveness. For example, an employer can receive funding to organize training for their wider workforce to learn how to better interact with and accommodate colleagues with special needs.

We will continue to fund workplace adaptation.  Many of our winners tonight have adapted their workplaces to help employees with disabilities do well in their respective areas of work. Xpressflowers.com installed wheelchair-friendly toilets and hands-free telephone sets. KPMG adjusted its door access timing so that one of its employees, Mr. Jan Lee, a wheelchair user, has more time to get through the door. These are small, but significant, improvisations to help our persons with disabilities to secure the jobs that they can do, and desire to do.

The new ODP will support both newly hired and existing employees. It is important not only to help persons with disabilities to get a job, but also to help them stay in their job. Because of rapid changes in the workplace, everyone has to adjust to new work processes, learn and adapt to be more productive and innovative, or risk becoming irrelevant. Employers can apply for funding support for job redesign, workplace accommodation, continuous training and so on for employees with disabilities for as long as they are with the company.

To encourage employers to do even more, we will also remove the funding cap of $100,000 per company and enhance training allowance support for disabled employees. This should encourage companies to hire more persons with disabilities, and strengthen their recruitment and integration processes.

For Persons with Disabilities

The ODP will also help persons with disabilities prepare for, secure, and settle into their jobs.

The ODP will support more upstream efforts. We recognise that persons with disabilities may require longer runways and more preparation to get ready for work.  We will support pre-employment training to get these persons better conditioned to work, as well as specific vocational training so that they acquire the right skills. There will be supported internships for persons with disabilities studying in local universities to help them acquire real work experience before they graduate.

Today, it is not easy for persons with disabilities to engage in continuing education and training (CET) due to the lack of training providers or courses that cater to their needs. SG Enable will work with training providers and VWOs to identify suitable CET courses and develop customised curricula or delivery methods tailored for persons with disabilities. The ODP will also provide funding to defray course fees and opportunity costs of attending CET programmes.

STRONG PARTNERSHIPS TO IMPROVE THE EMPLOYMENT LANDSCAPE

With these changes, I am confident that the programme will bring about even greater impact. I am pleased that some employers have already expressed interest in working with SG Enable to tap on the ODP in a broader way. NatSteel, for example, plans to provide job opportunities across different business functions and train persons with disabilities.
While important, the ODP will not be enough to transform the employment landscape for persons with disabilities. It will take a collective effort.  We will need the close involvement of the various Voluntary Welfare Organisations and SPED schools, and the different persons with disabilities whom they serve.

We will also require the continued support of the employers and the Enabling Employers Network. As the EEN knows the needs of employers, it is well placed to influence, to motivate, to mentor, and by its actions, show that an inclusive workforce open to persons with disabilities is not only do-able, but also makes business sense.

Often, the ‘soft’ challenges at the workplace are the hardest to overcome.  Hence, we would need HR practitioners, supervisors, co-workers and also customers to be open, and to build confidence in interacting with persons with disabilities.

CONCLUSION

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that while we can have all these programmes – they are necessary, but they are not sufficient. To me, and to all the partners here tonight, we know that what will make a difference between providing opportunities for our persons with disabilities and not providing them these opportunities ultimately resides in the hearts of each and every one of us. When each and every individual here and beyond this room is determined to provide those valuable opportunities for our persons with disabilities – we will make it happen, we will make it work.

I know that many of you who are here tonight did all this not because of the government subsidies or the ODF alone. Many of you have embarked on this journey because you sincerely believe in your hearts that this is something worthwhile for us to do. Not just for your company, but for our country. Your very actions speak louder than any words we can say tonight. Your very actions inspire many more to come and join in this programme for us to open the doors for more persons with disabilities to re-enter the workforce, to provide them a sense of self-worth and pride that they too can be contributing members of our Singapore society. For all these great things that you have done – with or without government support – we salute you and we thank you on behalf of the entire community who are working very hard in this area.

Thank you once again and I hope that you will have a very good evening with all of us. More importantly, we look forward to working more closely with you to provide even more opportunities for our persons with disabilities to participate fully in Singapore society – in work, in play, and in all aspects of life.

Thank you very much.
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