$$$ AND SENSE IN A PHYSICALLY-CHALLENGING WORLD

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As Cheryl Mohan slowly moves out from her wheelchair and sits down, there is a quiet air about her amidst the hustle and bustle of DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd’s staff café.

Cheryl, who is a Communications Associate at DiGi, was part of the team that worked on the pre-employment training programme to assist disabled employees.

In a nutshell, this programme gives disabled individuals a new lease of life as suitable candidates are trained and prepped, with successful ones offered permanent positions with DiGi.

She elaborates: “We believe four months would be a suitable timeframe for disabled candidates to receive training. We give them hands-on training, closely guide them and integrate them into regular working hours especially those who may have had an accident and been out of the workforce for some time.

“We feel that people took on this roles with varying needs or requirements and we try to fulfill their expectations. For example, we had couches for some disabled individuals to stretch out on for short periods of time so that they could relieve themselves from the wheelchair.”

In addition, candidates are  given a laptop to work on their  typing skills and courses in money management , as well as how to use Microsoft Powerpoint and Excel. Upon successful completion of the training program, they are  given a 12-month contract with DiGi.

Not only does Cheryl carry a full load at work as an able-bodied person, she is no stranger to working overtime. Cheryl has to cope with Spastic Cerebral Palsy whereby four limbs are affected with severe motor dysfunctions than other forms of Cerebral Palsy. The cause of condition is due to damage to the brain or spinal cord. For Cheryl, her condition was apparent from the time of birth.

Another  physically challenged person, Syadakal Azam bin Mohd Zain, a Customer Service Consultant at DiGi, has even outshone his fellow employees, having surpassed the productivity of his able-bodied peers to earn recognition as “Employee of the Month.”

He has a grueling, minimum two-hour commute in his wheelchair to and from DiGi’s office and changes two to three KTM Komuter trains daily. Highly spirited, he works steadily throughout the day, fielding post-paid calls, cross-selling products and identifying cost-saving options for callers.

Syadakal recently managed to double his productivity to 600 points from 300 points. Based on the company’s tiered target, Tier 1 is the basic tier while Tier 3 is for employees who attain the highly-challenging goal of acquiring 600 points.

For Syadakal, his job at DiGi was his first job after being in hospital and it has certainly changed his life dramatically. “They gave me a chance to prove myself,” he explains.

Looking at how DiGi has benefited the disabled, both Cheryl and Syadakal feel that it has provided them with a promising career growth path.

Cheryl, who has a mass communications background, initially came in to help with the training program and is currently in the Internal Communications Department, She works with different departments, handling reports on media coverage, monitoring as well as handling media complaints.

The  hiring process of a disabled individual follows the same manner as an able-bodied individual, whereby they go through similar rounds of interviews and require similar academic qualifications.

DiGi took the cue to initiate its program from Norwegian mobile operator Telenor, which has a 49% equity stake in the former.

In the January 2006 SINTEF Health Survey by, 75% of participants of the Telenor Open Mind programme found permanent jobs at the end of the programme. This is based on the average number of participants per enrollment.

At the time the study was conducted, there were about 90 participants who had undertaken the programme.

By 2013, all Telenor Group business units will have some form of training programs for disabled individuals.

Both DiGi and Telenor encourage diversity and hire people regardless of gender, religion, nationality or disabilities. The company is seen as a fair employer while employee performance increases.

In Malaysia, at the end  of  2007, DiGi held discussions with Telenor on plans to introduce in Malaysia, the Open Minds, Open Hearts program.

Suriahni Abdul Hamid, DiGi Head of HR Development said: “We implemented the program in 2008. We want to capture the pool of qualified candidates namely the disabled and also to help them integrate within our workforce.

“At the time, we understood that there were few job opportunities for the disabled. We partnered with NGOs like Beautiful Gates and worked with the Labour Office to tap this segment.”

Suriahni explained that the Open Minds, Open Hearts program differs from Telenor’s program. Telenor’s program involves three months of computer training and coaching courses followed by 21 months of work training for Telenor. The participants work in administration, accounting, helpdesk, support, management, surveillance and customer service.

She notes that in terms of the return on investment from the program, it’s vital to look at the initial intent, which was to source an additional pool of talent. In other words, it’s not about charity.

Nonetheless, those in permanent positions in DiGi also indirectly results in less recruitment costs to the company. “So we saw that disabled individuals could move into permanent roles after getting used to the usual pressures of being part of a regular workforce. They have found value in their work and, are an asset to the company.

“The fact that disabled employees feel they have added value from working in DiGi is an intangible ROI in itself,” said Suriahni.

She explained that this year, DiGi is revisiting the program and will continue with the 12-month contract and we will look at opportunities in technical and retail departments.

A win-win situation, participants gain work experience and a chance to prove themselves while DiGi acquires motivated, qualified employees. Society benefits from having a larger tax-paying population and DiGi Open Minds Open Hearts recruits physically challenged people because they are an asset to the company.

According to her, the company has hired 10-12 disabled individuals and plans to increase this to 15-20 disabled people next year. “It will be a more regular program. At some point, it will be part of our overall recruitment strategy and become a seamless process,” she concludes.

Ultimately, the program is about providing work experience to people with different work disabilities. It helps participants overcome barriers that prevent them from participating in working life.

 

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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