110 employers, including the public service, commit to more inclusive workforce for those with disabilities

President Halimah Yacob said she hopes to activate a shift in the workplace culture here, so that Singapore can be more welcoming to people with disabilities as co-workers. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - More than 100 employers committed on Wednesday (March 11) to building a more inclusive workforce for people with disabilities by signing the President's Challenge Enabling Employment Pledge.

The President's Office and the public service were the first signatories of the pledge, launched by President Halimah Yacob at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru.

In her opening speech, Madam Halimah said she hopes to activate a shift in the workplace culture here, so that Singapore can be more welcoming to people with disabilities as co-workers.

"We are committed to walk the talk, and provide equal opportunities to persons with disabilities, so that more will join the public service over time," said Madam Halimah.

The pledge is part of President's Challenge 2020, which in its 20th year is focused on empowering people with disabilities.

In all, 110 employers across various industries affirmed their commitment to support people with disabilities at work.

The other signatories are the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, National Council of Social Service and 106 members of the Singapore Hotel Association, which include Pan Pacific Hotels Group and Shangri-La.

These employers will receive support in their efforts to train, hire and integrate employees with disabilities.

The pledge guides employers on how to embrace an inclusive mindset, create barrier-free workplace environments and implement supportive employment policies for workers with disabilities.

More than 25 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 who have disabilities are employed, according to figures last year from the Ministry of Manpower.

The resident employment rate for people with disabilities is 28.6 per cent, while another 4.2 per cent are active job seekers.

This year's President's Challenge will raise funds for 72 organisations.

Funds will go to a variety of initiatives including the Extraordinary Apprenticeship Programme - a partnership between Extraordinary People, Pan Pacific Hotels Group, Samsui Kitchen, Tropic Planners and Landscape and ArtSE - also launched on Wednesday.

The programme places final-year students from special education schools in work environments to allow them to receive training and real-life experiences and prepare for a smooth transition from school to work.

It hopes to find employment for at least 40 individuals with special needs in the next three years.

It started as a pilot last year for a group of students from Grace Orchard School who were trained to make selected halal dimsum items.

Four of them are now employed by Samsui Kitchen to make spring rolls and beancurd skin rolls for Pan Pacific Hotels Group's properties here.

Ms Rozana Abdullah, who has mild intellectual disability, is one of them.

When the 19-year-old first joined Samsui Kitchen, she was shy and reserved, said Samsui Kitchen director Ang Kian Peng. But she eventually bonded with her colleagues.

Though she started out insecure and needed her supervisor's approval of her work, Ms Rozana has grown to be more confident.

She hopes others like her will find employment more easily.

"I want my friends to work just like me," said Ms Rozana, who is also a national para-athlete in the 400m sprint event.

President Halimah Yacob during a tour of Samsui Kitchen. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The President's Challenge this year will also support programmes like the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore's Bridge-Pro Framework, which will equip those with severe muscular dystrophy conditions with functional, academic and vocational skills and help identify suitable freelance jobs.

The Empowering for Life Fund will support the programme over the next three years, said Madam Halimah.

The fund will also support SG Enable's Enabling Employment Initiative which aims to build up in-house job coaching capabilities for employers of persons with disabilities.

The programme will be piloted in the hotel industry in partnership with the Singapore Hotel Association.

This article has been edited for clarity.

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