(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

He was compared to English icon David Beckham and trended on Twitter for scoring several long-range goals two years ago at the Asean Para Games.

Mr Khairul Anwar, 31, Singapore’s cerebral palsy football team captain at the games, even became the first local player to score a hat-trick at the new National Stadium. The football star may have won over many admirers and bagged a bronze medal, but he still faced a rocky path in landing a job after graduating from Republic Polytechnic.

The diploma holder in health management and prevention sent some 100 job applications out in the last three months – responding to job openings in sectors from retail to administration to fitness – but no one called him back.

“I was feeling worried and depressed. I was ready to take any job that came along,” said Mr Khairul.

Thankfully, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) came calling. It is the first ministry to hire para-athletes here under the spexBusiness government-funded scheme.

Mr Khairul started work with MCCY last Monday and will be doing mainly customer service and administrative work. MCCY will also be offering para-equestrian athlete Maximillian Tan a job.

In March this year, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had said in Parliament that the public service is appointing champions among senior management in their agencies to drive the hiring and integration of persons with disabilities. As of the end of last year, the public service has employed about 270 persons with disabilities.

MCCY’s move underscores how difficult it remains for Singaporeans with disabilities, including para-athletes, to secure jobs in the sluggish job market.

Employers are less keen to hire para-athletes because many need time off to train and some have low educational qualifications.

SpexBusiness, the sole government scheme started in 2013 to help athletes find jobs, has helped 120 Team Singapore athletes secure jobs or internships. Out of these, only about 20 have disabilities. There are about 100 national para-athletes.

A few para-athletes have even resorted to selling tissue paper or stationery in the streets to earn some money.

Muhd Shahrizan, 22, who represented Singapore in boccia in the last Asean Para Games, used to be one of them. For three years, the wheelchair-user sold pens and keychains at Marsiling MRT station until station staff chased him away as he did not have a permit for it.

Last year, Muhd Shahrizan, who suffers from a type of cerebral palsy that affects the lower extremities, was hired under the spexBusiness scheme by youth development firm FutuReady to do data entry and logistics work.

FutuReady has also hired two other para-athletes. It gave them all flexi-work arrangements, located their workplaces on the ground floor for convenience, and holds office meal gatherings in places that are disabled-friendly.

Mr Delane Lim, chief executive officer of FutuReady, said the Government should give more subsidies to encourage companies to hire people with disabilities.

He said: “We had to hire additional staff to understand their needs, ensure that they are working safely and oversee their work.”

Currently, government funding support under the Open Door Programme, another scheme that aims to encourage employers to hire persons with disabilities, is 70 per cent of the salary for the first four months, capped at $1,000 per month, and a one-time allowance of $100 for the colleague who is supporting the person with disability.

But businesses do not get any subsidies for hiring athletes under spexBusiness.

Some private companies such as Deloitte do have a programme to help athletes balance their sporting and work careers.

Sport Singapore, which oversees spexBusiness, said its partner companies assign a staff member to help para-athletes with day-to-day matters such as going to the toilet.

For athletes with intellectual disabilities, special provisions are made for them to take a nap during working hours as their attention span tends to be shorter than that of others.

Mr Alvin Lim, chief executive of Bizlink, a non-profit organisation that offers employment assistance for people with disabilities, applauded MCCY’s latest hiring move. “It is heartening to know that the ministry is taking the lead in this. When the basic needs such as income security are met, the para-athletes can then focus on pursuing their passion and excelling in the sports,” said Mr Lim.

Janice Tai

More Info: www.straitstimes.com

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