Monday, 22 December 2014

More disabled people getting better jobs

They are being employed in higher-skilled, higher-value roles
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

WHEELCHAIR user Timothy Ang was educated up to only primary school level but is now a certified draughtsman.

He uses software to draw up floor plans of bungalows or factories, then - based on details such as the thickness of walls - he visualises them in his head before creating a 3D model on a computer.

It is a far cry from his previous data entry job which paid him up to just $200 a month.

Before that he was unemployed for a decade.

"It has been a breakthrough for me," said the 59-year-old paraplegic who is among a growing number of people with disabilities being employed in higher-skilled jobs rather than manual roles. "I am proud of what I create now."

At least one of five clients of SG Enable, a government-established agency formed in July last year to provide services for the disabled, are placed in jobs that require professional skills, such as accounting, graphic design, engineering and music production. "We expect the number to grow as firms become more aware and open to hiring them to tap their diverse skills and abilities," said its group director Ong Ai Ming.

Non-profit organisation Bizlink, the second-largest employer of the disabled after the civil service, said the number of disabled people employed in higher-skilled and higher-value jobs has increased by around 30 per cent from five years ago.

Stakeholders attribute this growth to an increasing willingness among employers to redesign jobs and offices to cater to this group. Said Mr Abhimanyau Pal, executive director of SPD, an organisation representing the disabled: "More people with disabilities can attain a higher educational level with greater support in the mainstream school system and employers recognise that those with disabilities can be an alternate source of human capital, especially with the tightening of the labour market."

Mr Ang may not have the paper qualifications, but he went through three years of training to be a draughtsman with the help of the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA).

An architect firm's partner first approached the HWA in 2010 to see if he could volunteer to train some of its members.

The test project ran successfully and last month HWA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Building and Construction Authority and Singapore Institute of Architects to provide advisory services to its clients.

With such support, the HWA established a social enterprise three weeks ago that hires the disabled to offer draughting services. "Some have a tendency to look for data entry or reception jobs because of their lack of qualifications but I thought we should try to change their mindset and push them," said HWA president Edmund Wan.

"Now, they have better self-esteem and job satisfaction and they can earn thousands instead of hundreds."

Mr Darren See, 35, who is hearing-impaired, agrees. He was asked to leave his dream job as an R&D engineer after three months in 2008 because his firm found it challenging to work with those who are deaf. "To survive, I worked as a blue-collar worker in a warehouse doing apparel packaging, but I never gave up pursuing my dream," said Mr See, who is now the world's first deaf-certified instructor for Autodesk - a US firm that writes 3D design software for various industries.

Bosses such as Mr Richardo Chua, 32, who runs events management firm Adrenalin, sets the same standards for all staff, including the disabled. He said: "We had to have sign language classes and screens carrying messages installed all over the office. One designer has only three fingers and takes a longer time to complete the work. But we know they can do it when we nurture them so there is no room for sub-par work."

His firm has hired 35 physically disabled staff over the years to work in its design, finance or studio departments.

Said Mr Ang: "Such opportunities were non-existent 20 years ago so I am determined to succeed in this so that more of my disabled peers can join me in future."

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