What happens when youths with special needs graduate from school?

Social challenges, communication barriers and misconceptions about their abilities often impede their chances of getting a job. But for Ivan Ng, Lim Cheng Guan, Phua Jia Yi and Chong Wan Shuen – who are all 20 years old and have varying intellectual disabilities – internships helped pave the way to stable employment.

They are now working in different departments at the National University Hospital (NUH) after a successful internship in 2015 via the School-to-Work transition programme, a multi-agency collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and selected special education schools. Under the programme, students with potential for work are referred to SG Enable for post-school employment and training opportunities.

Photo of Ivan and his supervisor Rasid Bin Eksan working at the Medical Record Office of NUH

Cheng Guang and his supervisor Rasid take stock of the day’s tasks

Since overcoming initial job jitters, these young men and women are thriving under the guidance of SG Enable’s job coach, colleagues and work supervisors. We take a peek behind the scenes to see how work is going for them.

Ivan Ng and Lim Cheng Guang, both 20, Administrative Assistants at NUH’s Medical Records Office

“Nervous,” said Ivan, when asked what it was like on his first day of work. But fortunately for Ivan, he has the company of Cheng Guang, whom he has known for years since they both studied at Metta School. Both have mild intellectual disability and autism and bond over their common interest in computer games.

Group photo of staff at NUH's Medical Record Office: From left, Mr Rasid Bin Ekan, Ivan, Cheng Guang and Jimmy Yeap.

Cheng Guang (second from left) and Ivan (third from left) post with their supervisors Rasid Bin Eksan (leftmost) and Jimmy Yeap (rightmost)

Ivan and Cheng Guang have been working as administrative assistants at the Medical Records Office for almost a year, where their daily work involves tracing patient files and scanning files to update latest location in system. Initially, the duo did simpler tasks like pasting of stickers and shredding of papers. In a few months, they grew familiar with the tracing process of patient files as well as locations of various shelves.

Having patience and being good at numbers, Ivan and Cheng Guang are able to track down files quickly and are each able to handle about 100 case files in half a day. “Initially, we were worried that they might be difficult to work with,” said Jimmy Yeap, Senior Assistant Manager at NUH’s Medical Records Office. “But we have learnt how to communicate better with them and that they can better our expectations if we put in effort and patience to train them.”

Phua Jia Yi, 20, Storekeeper at NUH’s Pharmacy Department

As a storekeeper, Jia Yi helps to sort and pack pharmaceutical products for stocking and dispensing within the hospital. Because of her moderate-to-severe intellectual disability, accommodations have been made to customise her job with the help of a job coach.

Photo of Jia Yi and her supervisor K Thanaletchimi at the NUH pharmacy store

Jia Yi and her supervisor K Thanaletchimi at the NUH pharmacy store

For example, Jia Yi packs boxes of medications in bundles of five or 10 boxes to facilitate ease of packing. She also packs only one type of drug at a time, said her supervisor K Thanaletchimi, Senior Assistant Manager at NUH’s Department of Pharmacy.

Speaking in Mandarin, Jia Yi said her job allows her to make new friends and go shopping. She has a habit of leaving her black watch beside her to keep track of her work hours. Once the clock hits 10:30 am, she enjoys a break with her friend Wan Shuen at the pantry. As Jia Yi is reluctant to commute to work alone, her mother found a job at the Burger King outlet within the hospital premises so she could accompany her to and from work.

Photo of Jia Yi and Wan Shuen at the pantry

Jia Yi (right) and Wan Shuen share a moment during breaktime at the pantry

Chong Wan Shuen, 20, Healthcare Attendant at NUH’s Department of Environmental Services

After graduating from MINDS Woodlands Gardens School in 2014, Wan Shuen started to intern at NUH. She eventually secured part-time employment at its Department of Environmental Services’ linen section as a healthcare attendant. Her job involves folding and packing children’s pajamas for distribution to pediatric wards.

“Many perhaps think that people with disabilities are not able to perform as well as others and lower productivity. This is a misconception, as we have been very satisfied with Wan Shuen’s diligence,” said her supervisor Cherie Leong, Senior Executive at NUH’s Department of Environmental Services.

Wan Shuen, who has a sweet disposition, has moderate-to-severe intellectual disability and limited verbal skills. At the start, when conversation was a challenge, Wan Shuen often broke the ice by asking people where they lived. Since then, colleagues have adapted by asking her more straightforward or closed-ended questions that she can answer easily.

Photo of Wan Shuen with her supervisor Ms Cherie Leong at the NUH laundry section

Wan Shuen with her supervisor Ms Cherie Leong at the NUH laundry section

“An inclusive workplace is one which takes into account employees’ limitations – something that we all have, as we are all finite,” added Cherie. “Accepting our strengths and weaknesses will foster a positive culture and environment for all our staff.”