More people with intellectual disabilities to get work as bakers

Minds Bakers has plans to expand its programme from 22 trainees to 50 by the end of 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore’s (Minds) most successful social enterprise, Minds Bakers, has plans to expand its programme from 22 to 50 trainees by the end of 2022.

Mr Bryan Lim, Minds’ director of residential and centre-based services, said he plans to ramp up production of cookies and expand the enterprise’s offerings to other baked goods, and to supply them to hotels, cafes and restaurants.

Mr Eric Chua, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development, launched a new kitchen facility at the SIA-Minds Employment Development Centre on Wednesday.

The new facility will have commercial-grade equipment, a larger space for storage, washing and packing, and a new training room to conduct training and workshops with Minds’ corporate partners.

The programme, which started out as a therapy programme in 2010 to foster positive work behaviour in people with intellectual disabilities, aims to move the trainees into open employment or engage them in supported employment.

Mr Lim said about 1 per cent of the trainees, or about 10 in 1,000 trainees, have moved into open employment in three sectors – food and beverage, logistics, and environmental sanitation, which are labour-intensive sectors facing a manpower crunch.

There are currently five trainers, each supervising about eight trainees.

The trainees go through three months of training before becoming bakers in the programme, making cookies that are sold to corporates and on Minds’ online shop. The trainees, who have a Workforce Skills Qualifications accreditation in food hygiene, receive a monthly allowance for their work.

Trainer Mohd Rohaizat Amat said Minds prepares the trainees for open employment, but it may be difficult for some to make the transition or some of their families may not want them to do so.

“I want the trainees to take pride in their work, to make a contribution, small or big, to learn new skills here, and to be happy and engaged with their friends here,” he said.

“They have enough skills to work outside but might meet a lot of challenges emotionally; it could be with their speed, friends, or people misunderstanding them,” he said.

Mr Lim said there are three obstacles preventing people with intellectual disabilities from securing open employment. These are issues travelling to work, obstacles in the work environment, such as slippery floors or high shelves, as well as co-workers’ apprehensions about working with people with intellectual disabilities, such as being unhappy about having to take on more work than their peers with disabilities.

Since the Enabling Masterplan 2030 to support people with disabilities was released in August, Minds has received more inquiries from employers about whether Minds has trainees suited for certain roles, said Ms Juliet Lum, deputy director of Minds’ residential and centre-based services.

She said Minds is looking to alternative forms of supported employment in 2023, such as getting employers to engage Minds workers but allowing them to work from Minds’ facilities, which the workers are more familiar with.

Mr Esmond Lou, 24, who joined the employment development centre in 2017 after graduating from a special education school, had no interest in the work he was assigned to – packing headsets for airlines.

After he was placed in the Minds Bakers programme, his attendance improved as he enjoyed pre-mixing and scooping batter, as well as packing baked goods. Mr Rohaizat said Mr Lou had low confidence at first, but improved with encouragement.

When Mr Lou was made a peer leader, he took on more complex tasks like oven management and helped his fellow trainees. He hopes to become an assistant chef.

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