Thursday, 21 May 2015

UOB modifies office environment to give autistic employees more opportunities

Bank revamps office so it can hire people with autism
They form 30% of staff at UOB's centre to scan documents
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 20 May 2015

ON EVERY desk at the UOB Scan Hub, there is a list with detailed steps on how to scan a document, including checking scan settings, ensuring that the resolution is 200 dots per inch and that the colour setting is black and white.

It may seem odd that such instructions are laid out for a seemingly simple task, but for people with autism, the detailed steps help them do their job efficiently.

This is just one of the many physical changes to the office at UOB Scan Hub, which redesigned its processes and office to enable people with autism to work.

At the centre, thousands of documents such as credit card application forms are scanned, classified and archived every day.

The Scan Hub has 15 people with autism, making up 30 per cent of the staff. There is also one employee who is deaf.

The bank believes that it is the first to make such systemic changes to hire people with autism, who work best in places where there are visual instructions and clarity on what needs to be done. Staff also had to be trained.

UOB and the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) spent about six months training the pilot batch of six in 2013. For later batches, training took two months. Staff without special needs also had to learn how to work with people with autism.

Ms Susan Hwee, head of group technology and operations at UOB Group, said it started exploring untapped labour sources when setting up the Scan Hub in 2012.

Each month, about 250,000 documents are scanned at the centre, an important job not many people may aspire to do.

"We also have to index it, label it, so that we can retrieve it in the future. There is actual work that needs to be done. This is an important role in the process chain of digitisation... We needed to find a labour pool where the role is meaningful for them, and they have to stay on in their jobs."

She explained that staff at the Scan Hub must have an eye for detail and a methodical approach to work - qualities which match the abilities of people with autism.

An additional benefit: Turnover has dropped significantly. "Previously, when we were hiring temporary staff, every three months, we had almost 100 per cent turnover," she said, noting that just two people with autism have left since the bank started hiring them in 2013.

The bank also pays the same salary for those with autism and those without.

Senior grade clerk Mary Tan said: "My colleagues with autism have influenced me to pay more attention to details at work."

For clerical assistant Feng Zhi Hua, 28, who has autism, this is his first full-time job. "I can use the money that I earn to buy necessities and the things that I like," he said.

His mother Wang Kui Inn, 66, said: "I am relieved and happy to see that he can work and fit in with his colleagues. This way, he can have a more fulfilling life."

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