More adults with autism to be employed in healthcare sector under new agreement

President Halimah Yacob witnessing the signing of the agreement between Autism Resource Centre's vice-president Loh Wai Mooi and IHH Healthcare CEO Prem Kumar Nair. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Mr William Low, 22, enjoys his work at IHH Healthcare Singapore's (IHH SG) corporate planning department, where he checks patient records for discrepancies.

He has autism and likes the office's quiet environment, which he says enables him to focus on his work well.

He has been working at the private hospital operator for almost a year now, and was previously employed at a private dental clinic.

"It feels good to be employed. I am making a living for myself, earning money," he said.

Mr Low is one of 15 adults with autism who have been able to land a job in the healthcare sector as a result of a collaboration since 2019 between IHH SG and the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), a non-profit organisation that supports people on the autism spectrum.

The number of hospital employees with autism is set to grow, with a new three-year agreement between both organisations to train and equip more people on the spectrum with skills suitable for the healthcare sector beyond IHH SG's hospitals and clinics.

This means more kinds of jobs will be open to individuals with autism, said Ms Jacelyn Lim, executive director of the ARC.

IHH SG, the largest private healthcare provider in Singapore, runs four hospitals including the Mount Elizabeth hospitals in Novena and Orchard.

The 15 employees with autism under IHH SG work in the pharmacies and radiology and medical records departments, as well as in the corporate offices. Their roles include the sorting of medication and X-ray films, and resolving data discrepancies.

"Persons on the autism spectrum do have certain traits, like attention to detail and precision, so that works quite well for the healthcare sector where patient data records are very critical," added Ms Lim.

IHH SG chief executive Prem Kumar Nair said: "In healthcare, we are very short of staff. Healthcare is always operating at below the levels that we need. We've got two kinds of staff - those in the front line and a lot of backroom work such as bills and records management."

The memorandum of understanding between the ARC and IHH SG was inked on Sunday and witnessed by President Halimah Yacob at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru.

Under the agreement, the ARC may now train more individuals with autism for healthcare roles needed by other institutions.

The ARC's Employability and Employment Centre helps to place people with autism in suitable jobs with training and support from job coaches.

President Halimah Yacob talking to Autism Resource Centre clients (from left) IHH Healthcare Singapore’s William Low and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital’s Mark Tan. With them is IHH SG CEO Prem Kumar Nair. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

IHH SG will also work with the ARC's job coaches to finalise the job scopes that match each employee's strengths and abilities, and provide conducive spaces and equipment for training.

Such on-the-job support has been shown to increase their employment outcomes.

Mr Low said he tends to get easily distracted and this can result in doing things other than work. To overcome this, his job coach created a reward system: When he makes only one or two mistakes, he is allowed to surf the Internet while waiting for patient records to arrive.

This motivates him in his work and Mr Low is gearing up for a zero-error target next.

To create a more inclusive workforce here, Singapore set out a target recently to have 40 per cent of working-age people with disabilities employed by 2030, up from about 30 per cent between 2020 and 2021.

The ARC has helped place nearly 400 people on the spectrum in employment over the past decade.

Remote video URL

Jobs have been found across 40 companies, in sectors such as food and beverage, urban farming, logistics support and bespoke craftsmanship.

Ms Lim noted that the retention rate is high, with 95 per cent of them staying in their jobs after six months and close to 90 per cent of them doing so for more than a year.

A substantial number of them stay on the same job for five years on average, she added.

The three-year partnership between IHH SG and the ARC was sealed on the sidelines of an 8.2km fund-raiser walk that marked Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital's 10th anniversary.

The two Mount Elizabeth hospitals also pledged $100,000 to the centre.

The walkathon saw about 250 IHH SG employees, ARC clients and their family members covering the trail from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital to the end point at the Enabling Village.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.