Scheme to boost hiring of disabled

SINGAPORE - Restaurants and cafes are being encouraged to hire more staff with mental disabilities in an initiative launched by a social enterprise.

The Many Helping Hands Programme was started informally three years ago by restaurant chain Laksania.

Together with the Enabling Employers Network, Laksania chief executive Sim Sin Sin has mentored six companies in taking on members of this marginalised community and helping them to become valuable members of the workforce.

The scheme's official launch is an effort to encourage other food and beverage firms to join the programme. Training and assistance will be provided by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) and the Association for Persons with Special Needs.

Ms Sim said hiring the mentally disabled is rewarding though it can be challenging and employers need to invest time, effort and patience.

Some companies have found that although such staff may initially exhibit behavioural problems at work, these can be alleviated with extra guidance and counselling from Minds.

Ms Sim shares her experiences with employers so they can look out for common problems.

At Laksania, she said: "The mentally disabled are very precise and consistent in preparing laksa ingredients. They are also reliable, appreciative and don't complain about the work. Our workers have stayed with us since day one. The loyalty rate is nearly 100 per cent."

Laksania has expanded to three outlets since it started in 2008. Its disabled employees, who form the majority of the staff, also have much to smile about as the job has helped improve their lives.

Mr Quek Yong Chye, 26, who works at the East Coast Road restaurant said: "I like working here. It is fun and I like talking to the customers."

Ms Sim is hoping to sign up another six to 10 companies.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who was at Wednesday's launch, said: "This shows how businesses can be profit-driven and competitive, but also provide opportunities for the disadvantaged."

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