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Civil Service College Buona Vista
31 North Buona Vista Road, Singapore 275983

Centre for Healthcare Innovation
18 Jalan Tan Tock Seng, #04-01, Singapore 308443

Temasek Shophouse
28 Orchard Road, Singapore 238832

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Why we should seek to retain, and not just hire, persons with disabilities

Updated: Oct 15, 2018

Foreword Coffee trains and hires differently-abled persons, especially those with autism and the hard of hearing and Deaf community. Here we share a little bit of what we struggle in the workplace; to balance between creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, and having an efficient team.

In a bid to improve efficiency, we seek for our employees to specialize and be experts in their domains. The cashier performs her duties with little to no mistakes; the kitchen assistant supports the baristas; the junior barista doses the correct amount of coffee grounds and pulls the desired amount of espresso; the senior barista froths milk well and delivers each cup of latte consistently. In the grand scheme of things, our employees understand the importance of teamwork, where everyone plays their part and appreciates how a cup of coffee passes through many hands to be finally handed out to the customer.

We thought this plan was perfect because it allows us to hire people of different abilities to join our coffee kiosks and to perform just one function each in our workplace. The downside of specialization, however, is the need for more manpower in the coffee kiosks than if our employees acquire the skills to deal with more tasks. Also, specialization limits the salary for our employees as wages are pegged to skills and areas of responsibilities (i.e. in order for a junior barista to earn a higher wage, he/she has to go through competency tests to assess his/her skills to justify a wage increase based on skills development).

We need to go beyond merely providing jobs for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and to provide quality jobs which give them purpose and meaning. Many PWDs are usually underemployed which contributes to a lower quality of life than not having a job at all. One way which we are looking to do is to focus on employee retention by providing avenues for up-skilling, to make each employee more valuable through skills upgrading and for the employee to experience greater self-esteem through the skills gained.

Foreword Coffee largely works with persons with autism and the hard of hearing / Deaf community. As of May 2018, our workforce comprises of 6 differently-abled persons. We also accept students from various special education (SPED) schools in Singapore, and have since worked with Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS) and Mountbatten Vocational School (MVS) to provide work attachment and internship opportunities for their students. Our differently-abled employees are all currently working part-time, as longer hours would tire them out at the end of the day. The challenge for us now is to stretch their stamina and to provide them with more skills training to perform dual roles in the coffee kiosks (most of them are good at just one role).

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