SINGAPORE - Ms Tay Yee Ling, a 30-year-old with special needs, had her part-time job in the laundry department of a hotel terminated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and was out of work for about a year.
But after going for eight weeks of training in housekeeping under a new initiative for people with special needs, Ms Tay, who has global developmental delay, went for guided interviews and landed her first full-time job, as a hotel room attendant.
Called the YMCA-Inclus Train and Place Series, the training programme by YMCA and social enterprise Inclus has helped its first batch of young adults with special needs to get jobs in the hospitality and food and beverage sectors.
Two of the six trainees who completed the programme have secured full-time employment with industry partners such as Grand Copthorne Waterfront. The other graduates have received offers from some of the 15 employers currently on board the programme, including Millennium Hotels and Resorts.
The graduates, who include those with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder, were recognised for their achievement in a ceremony at YMCA on Thursday (April 14).
YMCA trains the young people in hard skills like housekeeping, general cleaning and customer service, and works to place them in jobs. Specialists from Inclus assess and support the trainees, from matching them to suitable jobs to accompanying them for job interviews.
Inclus also follows up with the graduates and their employers for a year, working closely with their families to tackle any issues that come up during their employment.
This follow-up service, which includes recruiting, soft skills training and consulting, is provided for a fee of about 20 to 30 per cent of the worker's annual salary, a rate comparable with other talent agencies, said Inclus co-founder Anders Tan.
Mr Tan said that while companies typically work with a single special school or agency, he hopes to consolidate this and get them to approach YMCA for the talent they need.
YMCA has the facilities and hospitality trainers to conduct vocational training and simulation, he said.
Ms Zeng Shujuan, director of human resources for South-east Asia at Millennium Hotels and Resorts, said the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the hotel industry.
"We have lost many talents over the last two years to other industries due to uncertainty in the recovery period. Coupled with the fact that borders remained closed, it was challenging for us to hire foreigners as well."
The hotel chain had to recruit from alternative sources, and that was when it partnered Inclus to hire people with special needs to work in its hotels.
She said the hands-on training and working experience provided by the YMCA-Inclus programme was valuable.
"The areas that they are trained in - F&B and housekeeping - are exactly where we are short of staff across all our hotels," she added.
The company works with the special needs employees' families to understand their needs, prepares department heads for what to expect and matches the workers to specific roles.
It also pairs them with an experienced buddy and eases them into their roles by, for instance, letting them start with shorter hours.
"Some people are quite surprised that persons with special needs can work in a hotel, given the fast pace and high volume of guest interactions. But there are many jobs within the hotel, and with the right training, the right job placement and the right support system in place, there are definitely areas we can bring them into."
Ms Sharon Chan, YMCA's division head of programmes, said the organisation has worked with young people with special needs through various programmes in the past few years.
"They have repeatedly proven to us that with the right support, they are more than capable of rising to life's challenges and to shine as brightly as everyone else.
"Through this programme, we hope to empower them towards independent living, while encouraging other organisations to give them a fair chance."