Autism is not proving any barrier when cafe worker Carmen Tan serves customers with a smile and friendly cheer.
Ms Tan, 23, is thriving at speciality coffee company Foreword Coffee, thanks in large part to the way it has accommodated her with initiatives such as printing laminated instructions, simplifying processes and providing job flexibility.
Foreword Coffee, which is also a social enterprise, was one of the examples cited in a job redesign guide developed by SG Enable in collaboration with the Ministry of Manpower to help firms be more inclusive.
The guide was launched yesterday at Foreword Coffee's outlet near Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. The company hires 14 people with conditions ranging from autism to hearing disability across its three cafes. It has 18 staff in total.
Foreword Coffee director Nadi Chan said: "It goes beyond a job. We are also improving and enriching their lives beyond the workplace, (such as by helping them improve) their social skills and motor skills, for instance."
Ms Tan said: "I'm happy here because I like making friends. I remember customers' names and their drinks and they are my friends.
"The laminated cards help to remind me of processes and questions to ask, like if customers want takeaway drinks or if they are eligible for a discount."
Number of people with conditions ranging from autism to hearing disability who are employed by Foreword Coffee across its three cafes. It has 18 staff in total.
Job redesign involves reviewing work responsibilities and environments, simplifying processes and developing solutions that can improve an employee's performance and safety. Some examples include job carving, where specific tasks are created for the individual, job sharing for people working part-time, and the labelling of work desks with colour coding for staff to easily recall processes.
The guide recommends that employers first determine if redesign is necessary. Then the firm has to identify areas for redesign depending on the needs of the employee, such as physical disabilities, limited vision or hearing, intellectual disabilities or difficulty adapting to changes.
Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Zaqy Mohamad said at the launch: "I think we have reached that point of maturity that we should be able to look at job redesign to help persons with special needs be employable and help the community to uplift itself."
He pointed to grants and support for employers to hire those with special needs, such as the Open Door Programme, a government-funded initiative by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Workforce Singapore.
Around 750 companies hired about 2,000 people with special needs from January 2016 to March this year.
Mr Zaqy said: "I encourage more companies to come on board. This is something that is promising and, with the design guide, I hope we can expand this much further."
Case studies in the guide can also inspire other employers by showing that they can have a successful business while incorporating staff with special needs, he added.
Foreword Coffee employees with special needs are assigned to one station at any one time so that they learn a specific process instead of all at one go.
Operations are organised around the cashier and the side-bar, espresso and milk stations. Specific tasks are carved out for the employees at each spot according to difficulty level.
Coffee terms on the menu are simplified, using the word "black" instead of "Americano", for instance.
The company also bought equipment such as a Puqpress coffee machine and an automatic milk frother to help those with weak muscles.
Mr Chan said: "Many employers are open-minded but do not know how to start. That is where the guide comes in, so that they know such a business model can be sustainable. Our business is still for profit but it is about tying that bottom line together with inclusivity."