$30m job scheme to help the disabled

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

The Open Door Programme was announced last night by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

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.

This article was published on April 25 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.