If you’ve ever walked behind the lush greenery and the obviously named “VILLAGE GREEN” block, you may have seen folks focused on other types of work: Cutting jackfruit, planting herbs, packing colorful stationery, and scanning documents.
These are the hard workers from the Employability and Employment Centre (E2C), Singapore’s first autism-focused centre that aims to help adults with autism find jobs. With training and adequate support, E2C eventually places them in jobs that help bring out their strengths, so that they can gain self-sufficiency and contribute to society.
Workspaces at E2C job sites are littered with the minutiae of work: daily schedules, reminders, and case scenarios tailored to each client’s personality and habits. One well-known strength of people on the autism spectrum is that they are suited for structured, process-driven that require attention to detail.
Currently, about 60 adult clients are undergoing training or working at the various job sites of the E2C campus of the Enabling Village. Job coaches are on hand to help them with technical knowledge as well as skills like communicating, grooming and managing interpersonal relationships. We spoke with some of the trainees.
“I get to work with jackfruit,” said Bruce Wong, 32, when asked what he liked about his job. That sounds like an understatement, until you realise: Bruce and his colleagues sometimes handle up to 30 giant-size jackfruits a day – some of which weigh as much as 32 kilogrammes.
Bruce has been working for more than 6 months at The Green Corridor (not to be confused with the nature run), where fresh fruits including pineapples and jackfruits are prepared and packaged for supermarkets all over Singapore. In the morning, he identifies ripened jackfruits by knocking on their hard shells, then splits them open with a large knife.
“I’ve learnt about good hygiene when working with food as well as safety when dealing with knives. I’ve also learnt about responsibility and that things need to be done before going back,” said Bruce.
“It is a very calm and comfortable workplace for me,” said Joel Chua, 20, who works at the Digital Services Centre at E2C. “When places are too noisy I’ll get anxious.” Joel digitises books and articles for the National Library Board. He also takes charge of quality control. “I prefer to work as I can earn money and help my family.”
“This is my first job,” said Edward Tan, 45, who has just started working at social enterprise The Animal Project. He helps with stocktaking and packing of merchandise. Edward has previously been to job fairs in search for work for more than 20 years, applying for positions such as a hotel doorman. But he is happy now. “I like the working experience, it feels like part of life itself,” he said.
Daniel Chua, 26, works at Edible Garden City, one of E2C’s job site partners located within Enabling Village. Edible Garden City is a social enterprise that champions the growth of food in land-scarce and import-dependent Singapore.
Daniel’s daily activities include sowing seeds, removing dried leaves, harvesting, clearing trays, watering the plants and packing soil—something some of us imagine ourselves doing when we get to retire. “Daniel likes sowing seeds because he likes plants to grow,” he wrote on a piece of paper during the interview. So do we, to be honest.
Salihin bin Nakmin, 20, works at the Art Bar, a community project by Starbucks Singapore, which trains young adults with autism to become baristas. After training for five months, Salihin now pulls an espresso shot with ease.
Salihin has mastered all drinks on the menu. “I enjoy serving customers and seeing them happy when I make drinks for them,” he said. “Milo smoothies are my favourite drink to make.”
But as the Art Bar becomes more popular with visitors at the Enabling Village, things can get busy. When drink orders start to pile up, Salihin takes a few deep breaths to distress.