DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Inclusive Business Forum on 26 February 2016

26 February 2016

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. I am delighted to join you here at the Enabling Village, for the inaugural Inclusive Business Forum. SG Enable and WDA have organised this platform for employers to share best practices in the training and hiring of persons with disabilities, and to take us forward in this important national programme. It’s heartening to see the many supportive employers here today.

Value of Gainful Employment

  1. Employment is a key priority for us in building an inclusive society, and that certainly applies to persons with disabilities. A job allows a disabled person to contribute usefully as a citizen, to interact and be integrated with the wider community, and to earn an income and be independent.
  1. Employers too stand to gain.  Persons with disabilities are more often than not loyal and committed members of the team. In today’s tight labour market, that’s all the more important. But it’s not just about manpower and numbers. The employers who have hired disabled persons, here in Singapore and in many other cities, find that disabled employees bring about a more inclusive workplace - where customers become more understanding, and co-workers are more supportive of one another and motivated to be working at an inclusive workplace.
  1. By hiring persons with disabilities, we also change the culture of the workplace, and with that, the broader culture of society as a whole. Customers become more understanding; co-workers become more supportive of each other; and over time, you just soften the work environment. We all develop something in ourselves. So it's a real opportunity to advance our culture.
  1. Let me give an example. In 2015, National University Hospital (NUH) and SG Enable collaborated on a programme where SPED school graduates went through customised, on-site training at NUH. At the end of the programme, NUH hired 4 of them as employees in the medical records office, linen and pharmacy departments. These departments are now benefitting not just by meeting their manpower needs, but from a more cohesive work culture.

Expanded Efforts; Encouraging Progress

  1. The government has been encouraging the employment of persons with disabilities, especially over the last few years. We do this in three ways. First, we have provided incentives and support to employers. In 2012, we extended the Special Employment Credit (SEC) to employers who hire persons with disabilities. Such employers receive a credit of up to 16% of the wages of their workers with disabilities. By 2015, the SEC had benefited over 4,600 employers and 7,100 PWDs. That’s a good start, but we can go further.
  1. In 2014, we also launched a new Open Door Programme that supports employers who embark on job consultancy, training and workplace modification efforts so as to help PWDs within workplace. More than 350 employers have been supported under this programme.
  1. Second, we are helping persons with disabilities themselves overcome  barriers and benefit from work. Our SPED schools, VWOs and SG Enable have expanded and improved training programmes. To help PWDs overcome other barriers, the government has increased funding in areas such as transport to the workplace and the use of assistive technology at work.
  1. Last year, we enhanced the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF).  It now supports AT usage for school and employment, as well as for training, therapy and independent living.  And we doubled the lifetime funding cap for each beneficiary to $40,000.  Compared to a year ago, the number of beneficiaries have jumped by five times to 300 persons. Again, a good start, but we must and can go much further.
  1. And to encourage persons with disabilities to stay employed and help them supplement their salaries and retirement savings, we also extended to them the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) in 2012. As at December 2015, more than 7,400 of them have received the WIS.
  1. Third, we are bringing employers and PWDs together. The examples we see at this Enabling Village and at this Forum give a glimpse of the work done. Since 2014, SG Enable and its 3 VWO partners – Autism Resource Centre, Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore and SPD – have successfully matched and supported more than 650 PWDs into jobs with employers.
  1. So overall, there is encouraging progress. But we can and we should build on this momentum to do more. SG Enable will extend greater support to employers and partner them.  We will also leverage on the national SkillsFuture movement to empower more persons with disabilities, as I will take about in a moment.

Greater Support and Partnering Employers

  1. SG Enable will embark on new efforts to raise awareness and capabilities among employers. To make it convenient for employers to access relevant information and resources, it is putting together a new portal and a series of practical toolkits on disability employment. For instance, some of us may not be aware of practical workplace habits we can make to help co-workers with disabilities. These could be as simple as not having multiple conversations during meetings with hearing impaired colleagues, or making sure that we have visible facial expressions when we are speaking. SG Enable will help employers understand and address these issues in a practical way.
  1. SG Enable will also work with VWOs and other partners on structured support programmes that help transit PWDs into work attachments and subsequently employment. Elements in such programmes would include job trials and work skills training. In 2014, we launched the Tote Board – Enabling Lives Initiative that set aside $30 million to improve the well-being of persons with disabilities and their caregivers. $5 million of this funding will go towards supporting transition-to-employment initiatives for PWDs.
  1. An example of an initiative that can be scaled up is a “hospital-to-work” transition programme for persons who acquire a disability, probably from an accident or illness.  It’s called iEnable.  It provides holistic support, including counselling, re-training, job placement and workplace support. SGEnable has worked with VWOs and hospitals on a pilot of this programme over the past two years. Of the 59 persons served during this pilot phase, more than half were successfully placed into jobs. We will scale up this, and other programmes, with the resources set aside.

Empowering Persons with Disabilities Through SkillsFuture

  1. SG Enable has worked with WDA and 23 training providers to offer more than 1,300 places in training programmes tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities. But our commitment to help persons with disabilities be employed and stay in a job must be comprehensive, and it will be.  Beyond preparing our young students in schools, and beyond matching a person to his or her first employer.
  1. This is where SkillsFuture comes in. We will invest in every citizen’s education and skills throughout their lives, and that includes persons with disabilities. Regardless of your starting point, SkillsFuture will provide disabled Singaporeans with opportunities to achieve their aspirations.   
  1. With the SkillsFuture Credit, all Singaporeans aged 25 and above have received an opening credit of $500 from January 2016. Persons with disabilities can use it to pay for courses. This evening, I just observed the hospitality and F&B training opportunities offered by SHATEC here at the Enabling Village. Many of these courses already enjoy course fee subsidies of up to 90%.  But PWDs can make use of their SkillsFuture Credit to pay for the balance. 
  1. I just met Mr Goh Ta Lang at the Multimedia Lab here in the Enabling Village. Ta Lang first graduated from CPAS – a special education school for persons with cerebral palsy. He then received ICT training at the Handicaps Welfare Association, before attending training by BIM Studio on computer-aided architectural drawings. Building on the foundational training he had received, Ta Lang, a BIM Studio employee, is now undergoing on-the-job training at Changi Airport, where he is helping to convert old architectural diagrams into new technical formats. I am sure Ta Lang’s journey will not stop here. His attitude and story capture the spirit of SkillsFuture – that of learning to improve ourselves and open up new prospects, wherever we start from and at any stage of life.
  1. We will encourage and empower persons with disabilities in their skills and employment journey through SkillsFuture.  SG Enable and WDA will work with VWOs, employers and persons with disabilities themselves to come up with a comprehensive and impactful plan for this.
  1. It will include a dedicated category of SkillsFuture Study Awards for persons with disabilities. First, for PWDs who are role models by demonstrating resilience and perseverance in pursuing their learning in order to achieve their full potential in life. And second, SkillsFuture Study Awards for job coaches and other professionals who support persons with disabilities.
  1. The awards will help bring about positive impact to PWD employment in Singapore. SG Enable and WDA will announce more details about these SkillsFuture Study Awards later.
  1. With the right training and accommodating practices at the workplace, persons with disabilities can contribute meaningfully in the jobs and to society. To encourage this, we will extend greater support to employers and leverage fully on SkillsFuture to empower persons with disabilities in their lifelong learning.
  1. Some of you here today have already embraced this in your companies. You’ve set good examples and I hope that you can do more. For the rest of you, I thank you for being here today and urge you to take the first steps. Together, we can create a more inclusive workplace and more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.