SINGAPORE: Until recently, Mdm Zanizah had been concerned about her special needs son’s career prospects. She constantly worried about the limited number of jobs that 19-year-old Muhammad Saifullah, who has a hearing disability and a low IQ, would be able to take on.
His prospects, though, have looked much brighter as he has started to acquire skills at school that will be useful in the workplace. Saifullah, who is a final year student at Delta Senior School (DSS), is on a Retail Operations (RO) programme to learn all about the retail industry.
The programme got a boost earlier this year when Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo Singapore partnered DSS to set up a Fashion Retail Training Room (FRTR) for students with special needs.
The room recreates a Uniqlo store, giving students the chance to learn useful skills in as real an environment as possible, including product replenishment, product and mannequin display, and basic cleaning procedures.
“I am very happy that my son is learning much more than what I expected,” said Mdm Zanizah.
DSS is one of four schools run by the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), a voluntary welfare organization that strives to enable persons with special needs to actively contribute to society.
President of APSN Victor Tay said its goal is to help people achieve an independent life while fostering an inclusive society: “We strongly believe in empowering our beneficiaries with not only the most pertinent skill set that allows them to secure jobs and contribute to Singapore’s economy in the retail sector, but also the confidence in competing for a job when they go out into the working world.”
The retail industry provides a number of opportunities for people with special needs, said Mr Tay. Due to the shortage of manpower in Singapore’s retail industry, “the APSN has looked at the retail sector as one of the important sectors in which people with disabilities can be employed.”
The retail programme is one of four offered at the school to help students acquire job skills - the other three are F&B, horticulture and hospitality.
The skills acquired seem to be worthwhile, as 95 per cent of students get employed, said Mr Tay. "This shows that employers are assimilating these special needs students into the workforce. We hope to gear towards full employment where possible.”
Uniqlo is one organisation that is giving jobs to people with special needs: Channel NewsAsia was told that the company has hired 30 such workers as core members of store staff as of May 2017.
“As a global retailer, we are in a unique position to use our business to change lives. One of the ways we are doing this is by creating opportunities for people who are sometimes overlooked,” said Uniqlo Singapore.
“We hope this will make them feel engaged with society in a deeper manner that is more beneficial to them.”