Sunday, 27 April 2014

Open Door Programme: $30 million job scheme to help the disabled

It will offer such workers better job and training support, defray employers' costs
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2014

A NEW $30 million scheme will help people with disabilities to train and look for jobs, and defray employers' costs in supporting them.

Speaking at last night's Enabling Employers Awards Gala Dinner at Gardens by the Bay, he said more companies are becoming interested in hiring people with disabilities. "To take advantage of this rising interest, we have decided to provide employers and persons with disabilities better job and training support," he said.

The new scheme replaces the former Open Door Fund, which also subsidised employers' efforts to recruit and integrate disabled people.

However, whereas the fund could be tapped for only new employees, the programme covers both new and existing workers with disabilities.

The money can go towards apprenticeships, job and workplace redesign, and training staff to work with disabled colleagues. A funding cap of $100,000 per company has also been lifted.

More funding will also be given for apprenticeships: 70 per cent of the apprentice's salary capped at $1,000 a month for up to four months, with a possible two months more. This is up from 60 per cent, capped at $600 a month.

Unlike the fund, which was for companies, the programme is also open to individuals with disabilities themselves.

They can get help to search for jobs and funding support for training. The Government has set aside $30 million for the scheme over the next three years, funded mainly by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and supplemented by the ministry. It is expected to help some 4,000 people with disabilities and 1,000 employers.

Interested companies and workers can contact SG Enable, a government-established agency which administers the scheme.

Dignity Kitchen, a hawker training centre for the disabled and disadvantaged, has tapped the Open Door Fund for three years.

The removal of the funding cap will be a great help, said its executive director, Mr Koh Seng Choon: "That means there is more opportunity for widening the scope to assist these people."

Training some disabled people can take longer and cost more, he noted. A basic food hygiene course which usually takes eight hours could take up to 60. More funding would thus allow more workers to attend courses, he added.

The company was one of more than 70 award recipients last night. In its third year, the Enabling Employers Awards are for firms committed to hiring and supporting people with disabilities, as well as exemplary disabled workers.

One winner was design engineer and 3D-modelling instructor Darren See, 35 - the world's first deaf certified instructor in 3D-modelling software Autodesk. He hopes to see more industry jobs available to the deaf.

"I hope that they will have the chance to be in the same position as me," he said via an interpreter. "I believe they can do it."

Mr Chan hopes to see more professional, managerial and executive positions for disabled people with advanced qualifications. He has tasked SG Enable with securing more such roles, as well as piloting customised job projects - such as finding parts of the food preparation process in kitchens that those with disabilities can handle well.

New programme to help with hiring of disabled people
By Reshma Ailmchandani, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Apr 2014

Some S$30 million will be set aside for a fund that helps companies hire people with disabilities.

Companies can tap the fund to redesign jobs or modify infrastructure to make the workplace more conducive for people with special needs.

This was announced by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing as he unveiled the new Open Door Programme, which facilitates the hiring of disabled people.

The fund primarily comes from Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and supplemented by Ministry of Social and Family Development.

70 per cent of the staff in Alfresco Café at Siloso Beach Resort are people with disabilities.

Tan Shun Li, who works as a waiter at the café, said: "The guest sometimes give me tips. The guests like me to work here.”

Karl Fischer, manager of CSR at Siloso Beach Resort, said: "We're trying to change mindsets. We don't put out staff with disabilities somewhere hidden in the department behind the scenes where no one is going to see them.

“We try to give them meaningful positions - even frontline positions where they'll be very visible and interacting with the guests."

Siloso Beach Resort is one of the recipients of the Enabling Employers Awards, which recognises companies and individuals for facilitating the employment of people with disabilities.

With the new Open Door Programme, the government hopes to encourage more employers to hire workers with special needs.

Previously, the programme allows companies to receive funding of up to S$5,000 per employee for training and job redesign purposes.

The cap for each company is S$100,000, which means that a firm could hire only 20 disabled people.

This cap has now been removed.

Mr Chan said: "For employers, it will support consultancy, training and other efforts aimed at bringing persons with disabilities into the workplace and raising their effectiveness.

“For example, an employer can receive funding to organise training for their wider workforce to learn how to better interact with and accommodate colleagues with special needs.

"Employers can apply for funding support for job redesign, workplace accommodation, continuous training and so on for employees with disabilities for as long as they are with the company."

Employees are also set to benefit from this programme, which will help them to stay or advance in their jobs.

Mr Chan said: "Today, it is not easy for persons with disabilities to engage in continuing education and training (CET) due to the lack of training providers or courses that cater to their needs.

“SG Enable will work with training providers and VWOs to identify suitable CET courses and develop customised curricula or delivery methods tailored for persons with disabilities.

“The Open Door Programme will also provide funding to defray course fees and the opportunity costs of attending CET."

The programme is set to benefit some 4,000 people with disabilities and 1,000 employers, with about 2,500 individuals receiving direct job placement and support.

The minister also noted that a collective effort from welfare organisations and Special Education schools to supervisors and co-workers is needed to change the employment landscape for people with disabilities.

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