Banking on people with disabilities

UOB wins top accolade for hiring people with autism; 72 firms and people lauded for efforts

United Overseas Bank (UOB) had trouble retaining staff at its UOB Scan Hub, a department that scans and archives customers' documents.

But all that changed when it began hiring people with autism in 2013 to work there. The job requires high levels of focus and is repetitive.

Now, out of its 56 employees there, 19 are autistic while four others have hearing impairments - and hardly anybody quits.

The bank was among 72 firms and people recognised yesterday for their efforts at making their workplaces welcoming to people with disabilities.

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The bank clinched one of the top accolades at the 4th Enabling Employers Awards, organised by SG Enable, an agency dedicated to enabling people with disabilities to thrive and be included in society.

UOB won a "Leaders" award, along with NTUC FairPrice and Uniqlo (Singapore).

The bank's head of group technology and operations, Ms Susan Hwee, came up with the idea because the turnover rate at the department was about 50 per cent. She said: "I personally have an interest in learning disabilities, and wondered if we could tap a larger labour pool that has been overlooked."

She realised that people with autism have characteristics well suited to the job, such as their focus and inclination towards structure.

Now, the turnover rate in the department is 5 per cent, and productivity since 2013 has increased by 101 per cent.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said employers often experience a change in the company's culture for the better after hiring people with disabilities. "The company becomes more caring, more inclusive. Co-workers become more patient, accommodating (and) purposeful, often going the extra mile to help their fellow colleagues."

SG Enable chief executive Ku Geok Boon said the winners' contributions and dedication "remind us that we can all play a part in strengthening an inclusive culture".

This year's awards also featured a new category that recognises co-workers or supervisors who support colleagues or subordinates with disabilities. One of the three winners of the Enabling Buddies award is Yishun Community Hospital's environmental services supervisor Davis Chew. He supervises 38 people who clean the hospital and, in April last year, hired two people with mild intellectual disabilities.

It took Mr Chew around three weeks to train them, instead of the usual one week. They are now among the most reliable staff he has. Asked why he made an extra effort to train them, Mr Chew, who has two daughters aged two and one, said: "I'm a father. If my children have disabilities, I (would) want other people to help them too."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Banking on people with disabilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe