Opening Remarks at Empowering Inclusivity Conference
Minister for Manpower, Dr Tan See Leng, ITE College Central
Ms Low Khah Gek,
Ms Ong Toon Hui,
Mr Abhimanyau Pal,
Chief Executive Officer, SPD
Ms Ku Geok Boon,
Chief Executive Officer, SG Enable
1. A very good morning to all. It is my pleasure to join you at today’s Empowering Inclusivity Conference.
2. First of all, I want to thank the ITE and Polytechnics as well as SG Enable and SPD for coming together to organise this meaningful conference.
3. Inclusivity is key to strengthening Singapore’s social compact. Rapid technological advancements has disrupted the way we work, while our ageing society and concerns around social mobility raise anxieties and apprehensions for different groups in society. We must work doubly hard to make sure that all Singaporeans can share the fruits of our country’s progress, and this includes fellow Singaporeans with disabilities.
4. Our vision is to build a society where everyone belongs, and every citizen has a chance to achieve their fullest potential. We always have this mantra “hope is not a plan”. We need to work on a plan and provide clear milestones and deliverables so that we can pull in the same direction. This is why the Government worked with our partners to roll out the Enabling Masterplan 2030, as a roadmap to guide our journey and track our efforts toward a more inclusive society.
a. Let me talk about inclusive employment, which is a focus of this conference. Under the Enabling Masterplan, we have set a target of achieving an employment rate of 40% for persons with disabilities by 2030.
b. The average employment rate of resident persons with disabilities aged 15 to 64 has improved from around 28% in 2018 and 2019 to about 31% in 2021 and 2022 – a reflection of a stronger ecosystem and the willingness to support the employment of persons with disabilities. Together with our partners and the community, I believe we can do more to remove their barriers to employment.
Supporting transition and sustaining employment
5. We understand that it may be particularly difficult for persons with disabilities to transition to employment, especially in a world where the nature of jobs and the skills needed can evolve quickly. We will first focus on smoothening this transition for enlightened employers who already appreciate the benefits of an inclusive workplace.
6. The Open Door Programme, also known as ODP, provides job matching support, and on-site coaching for up to one year to help persons with disabilities integrate into their new workplace. Employers who are looking to redesign a job for an employee can also apply for grants to purchase new equipment or modify the workplace to be more conducive for their employees with disabilities. To help employers chart their progress in inclusive hiring, employers may also apply for SG Enable’s Enabling Mark, a national accreditation that benchmarks and recognises organisations for their best practices and outcomes in disability-inclusive employment.
7. This brings me to the story of Mr Eugene Soh, and how personal grit combined with a strong network of support can make the difference. In spite of his autism, Eugene was able to adapt quickly to life at ITE thanks to the support of his friends, lecturers, and learning support specialists, as well as programmes to improve his social skills. Eugene graduated in 2021, which was a tough year for everyone applying for jobs. Nevertheless, he pressed on and participated in SG Enable’s Career Coaching Programme. I am happy to share that Eugene now works with UEMS Solutions providing assistance to healthcare patients. Tapping on the Enabling Employment Credit and job support services, his employer was able to redesign Eugene’s onboarding process to ease him into his role smoothly.
Expanding outreach and shifting mindsets
8. Beyond immediate transition support, we will need to expand outreach and shift mindsets for the long term. The whole-of-society should understand that persons with disabilities have much to contribute, and therefore stand by efforts to build inclusive workplaces. I thank our partners here today for the various initiatives to educate the wider public, and advocate the abilities and talents of persons with disabilities. The Government is fully with you.
9. Earlier this year, the Government accepted the final recommendations by the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness for the workplace fairness legislation. This marks a significant milestone in building fairer and more harmonious workplaces and sends a strong signal that there is no place for workplace discrimination in Singapore.
a. One recommendation is for the legislation to prohibit the common and familiar forms of workplace discrimination in Singapore, including disability, age and sex.
b. This means that employers must not make employment decisions like hiring, promotion, or dismissal based on an individual’s disability, when it has nothing to do with the job.
c. The Committee also recommended continued support for employers that wish to hire persons with disabilities who meet the job requirement. This ties in with existing efforts to support fair representation in the workplace.
d. The legislation to implement these recommendations is targeted to take effect in the later half of 2024. We hope that the law will shape positive workplace norms by helping more employers understand that an inclusive workplace makes business sense too. For example, a work environment that is more open to different perspectives and backgrounds helps to maximise the potential of each employee and attracts a wider pool of talent. Diversity in the workforce can also help companies better understand and relate to customers with different needs.
10. Most recently, the Ministry of Manpower set up a tripartite workgroup to develop Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests.
a. FWAs became more common during the pandemic. Workers welcome FWAs, with many sharing that it helped them better balance work and family responsibilities. For employees with disabilities who may need more time and effort to get to the office, telecommuting may be particularly helpful. Our hope is that FWAs can empower more of those who are currently outside the labour force to pursue a career.
b. For employers, FWAs will help to better attract and retain talent particularly as the population ages, caregiving needs grow, and the labour supply shrinks.
c. We acknowledge that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Employers need to consider whether certain types of FWAs are suited to the nature of their business operations. Employees may also have different needs which need to be met by different FWAs.
d. To catalyse the benefits that FWAs can bring while making it sustainable for all parties, the Tripartite Guidelines for FWA Requests aim to set norms and expectations on how employees can make requests for FWAs, and use them responsibly, and how employers can manage requests for FWAs in an appropriate, fair and equitable manner.
11. In conclusion, the Government will do all we can to achieve our target of 40% employment rate for persons with disabilities by 2030. Stories like Eugene’s show us that we are headed in the right direction. I also would like to share that the writings of Stephen Hawking in his book called “A Brief History of Time” was written during a time when he suffered from a debilitating illness. Yet, the support he received and technological assistance allowed him to pen some of his innermost thoughts. His genius, his creativity, thinking and insight into the realm of theoretical physics allowed us a glimpse into the origin of the universe. If the world did not have the support system that allowed him to inspire us through his writing, and for future generations of theoretical physicists to build their knowledge on, we would be a lot poorer for it. We will continue to take in the input of stakeholders and review our policies and the support provided.
12. Today’s event, which brings together educators, allied health professionals, employers and social service partners is therefore an excellent opportunity for us to ideate, network, and develop meaningful partnerships towards building more inclusive workplaces.
13. I wish all you a meaningful and fruitful conference.
14. Thank you.