From trainee to valued barista: She's not letting deafness and intellectual disabilities hold her back

With career counselling and on-the-job training from SG Enable's Job Placement and Job Support (JPJS) programme, she's managed to break the barriers to employment

Despite deafness and intellectual disabilities, Ambika has overcome the odds to be independent, manage tasks well, and guide new workers in the cafe. PHOTO: FOREWORD COFFEE ROASTERS

If you were to order a drink at Foreword Coffee Roasters in Temasek Shophouse, chances are that it would have been made by Ambika. 

The 23-year-old, who is deaf and has an intellectual disability, “prepares a latte with really nice latte art”, says Mr Lim Wei Jie, co-founder and director of Foreword Coffee Roasters.

Ambika was referred to the company in 2018 through SG Enable’s Job Placement and Job Support (JPJS) programme. After getting career counselling, pre-employment and vocational training, Ambika was matched with this job role and received job support after her placement. 

These integrated services in the JPJS programme help persons with disabilities work in open employment and receive more holistic support beyond their career needs. It also provides employers specialised support to kick-start their journey in hiring persons with disabilities. 

Following career counselling and vocational training, Ambika was matched to her current job and continues to receive support after her placement. PHOTO: FOREWARD COFFEE ROASTERS

This year, Ambika became a full-time staff member, as she has demonstrated her ability to be independent, manage all the tasks, and also guide new workers in the cafe.

Says Mr Lim: “Foreword Coffee Roasters was started with the idea of providing employment for persons with disabilities who do not easily qualify for mainstream employment and require more support. We felt that there were many misconceptions regarding persons with disabilities and hence wanted to place them in a more visible job scope, as baristas, so that regular interactions with the public could help lower the social stigma and, in turn, lead to more people understanding persons with disabilities.”

Ambika’s successful journey was made possible by the strong partnership between SG Enable, MINDS and Foreword Coffee. Mr Lim says the job coach support from SG Enable and MINDS helps employers to provide better workplace support for persons with disabilities to perform better at work.

Recognised for its outcomes, best practices and commitment in inclusive hiring, Foreword Coffee was accredited with the Enabling Mark (Platinum), the highest tier of the national-level accreditation, by SG Enable in 2021. This has strengthened Foreword Coffee’s branding, attracting socially-conscious customers, as well as promoting an inclusive workplace culture that fosters better teamwork and performance.

Adding polish to shine 

Yong Yao Hao, who has an intellectual disability, works as a cleaner at Evergreen Refuse Disposal & Cleaning Services. Yao Hao, who was first placed in the company through the JPJS programme as a trainee in September 2020, became an employee upon completing his training in the same month.

Yao Hao (right) is a systematic worker and an asset to his company. PHOTO: EVERGREEN REFUSE DISPOSAL & CLEANING SERVICES

Its director, Ms Christina Ng, says her company has benefited from the support from SG Enable and MINDS. “They have grants for us, and job coaches attached to our employees with disabilities. If the employee faces any problem, the job coach will let us know so that we can adjust the job scope for them to work better.”

She adds that Yao Hao is an asset to the company. “While Yao Hao has an intellectual disability, he is very systematic in routine work. Persons with disabilities also tend to seek stable and reliable work, and this contributes to higher retention rates for the company.” 

Strong partnerships

Persons with intellectual disabilities need a longer runway to be work-ready. MINDS assesses them through a systematic vocational assessment process to better gauge their employability, before matching them with potential jobs and providing the necessary on-the-job training and support to help them adapt to the new workplace, explains Ms Juliet Lum, deputy director, Residential & Centre-Based Services, MINDS.

Working hand in hand with SG Enable for case referral, discussion and support, MINDS is able to provide more clients with intellectual disabilities job placement and support, as well as improve the quality of job coaching services with professional development opportunities provided by SG Enable’s Enabling Academy.

On-the-job training helps workers like Yao Hao to adjust to his job better. PHOTO: EVERGREEN REFUSE DISPOSAL & CLEANING SERVICES

Ms Ng from Evergreen Refuse Disposal & Cleaning Services says: “On-the-job training and patience are important for hiring persons with disabilities. Working with professional job coaches is also important as they are the support in the initial stage.”

Mr Tan Eng Tat, director, Employment & Employability, SG Enable, says: “We work closely with persons with disabilities, their caregivers, their employers and our social service agency partners to create an inclusive and sustainable working environment for persons with disabilities. Companies can also be assured that with support and training, employees with disabilities like Ambika and Yao Hao can work independently and contribute too.”

For organisations keen to hire persons with disabilities or apply for the Enabling Mark Awards (applications close Jan 31), click here

This is part 5 of 6 in a series about disability-inclusive employment. Look out for the next article in The Business Times in January 2023.

Supported by the Enabling Lives Initiative by SG Enable & Tote Board and the President's Challenge Empowering for Life Fund.

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