Start small in hiring people with disabilities, Govt will do everything it can to support: DPM Wong

The public service, one of Singapore's largest employers, has also been inclusive in its hiring, DPM Lawrence Wong added. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - In 2016, Vital, an agency at the Ministry of Finance which provides corporate shared services for the entire public service, hired its first employee with disability.

Now, it has 13, and the employees' disabilities include autism, hearing impairment and physical disabilities. They carry out various roles, such as digitalisation of personnel files, finance services and processing payroll and claims.

At the start, Vital worked with SG Enable – the point agency for disability and inclusion – to find people to digitise hardcopy documents. It decided to hire those with autism after realising certain aspects of the job played to their strengths, and later decided to hire more people with disabilities.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Thursday (Aug 25) cited Vital as an example of how employers, in this case the public service, and the Government can work closely to make a difference to the lives of people with disabilities.

Speaking at the Inclusive Business Forum held at Mediacorp's theatre in one-north, he urged companies thinking about being more inclusive in their hiring to first start small, then build confidence from there.

This could be through a small-scale internship programme, or with a few full-time employees to begin with, he said. SG Enable will provide support as well, from job matching and training, to job redesign and grant support.

Mr Wong said companies play the most important role in ensuring more people with disabilities are hired, while the Government will continue to play a key role by offering support.

“The Government will do everything we can,” he said. “We will continue to review our policies and programmes and the kinds of help that we extend to companies.”

Businesses must see it in their interest to hire such people – not just out of charity or social good, but because they truly believe in the benefits of disability-inclusive hiring, so that more from this group can find jobs, he added at the biennial forum organised by SG Enable.

Mr Wong noted that the employment rate of people with disabilities has increased from about 28 per cent in 2019 to about 30 per cent now.

“We can, and must, do better,” he said. “Because as we look to the future, what is clear is that the continued success of Singapore will rely not just on how much economic growth we can generate, but also how inclusive we can become as a society.”

A national disability inclusion road map released last week set a target of employing 40 per cent of people with disabilities by 2030, which means placing another estimated 10,000 people with disabilities in jobs.

Mr Wong said people with disabilities want to work, and have many valuable skills to offer if given the opportunity. “And as a society, we owe it to them to give them this opportunity.” 

On the Government’s part, it has implemented initiatives such as a wage offset scheme and a grant to defray costs of workplace modifications and equipment. SG Enable provides job-matching services and facilitates training and job coaching.

DPM Lawrence Wong speaking at the Inclusive Business Forum on Aug 25, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Mr Wong said it is increasingly apparent that being disability-inclusive makes good business sense. 

He referred to a study commissioned by SG Enable and conducted by executive search and consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, which found employees in such companies tend to have a greater sense of purpose, leading to higher retention rates among employees.

They also generally have more collaborative and innovative culture, as well as a greater focus on customer needs, as employees become more empathetic and aware of individual differences, Mr Wong said.

In many areas, the solutions lie not just with the Government, but also employers and community groups, he said. Taking shared responsibility of caring for the vulnerable is how Singapore can refresh and strengthen its social compact, he added.

Mr Wong is leading Forward Singapore, a year-long public engagement exercise launched in June to renew the social compact.

He said: “We will continue to engage different groups, take in feedback, study the issues, and consider what further moves we can make to be more inclusive and provide better care and support for people with disabilities.”

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