Special students welcome at IKEA Singapore

IKEA stores in Singapore are giving students with disabilities a chance to gain work experience in a real store environment. That is a huge benefit for students who practise new skills and are getting ready for working life.

But it is not only the students who benefit. There are also the IKEA co-workers who get to work with the students and contribute to a better everyday life for their community.

The work program in the IKEA store has helped to disprove the perception that people with disabilities can only do certain jobs

The IKEA Alexandra store started a working relationship with the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Tanglin School in 2012. APSN is a nonprofit organisation that provides education and vocational training to people with mild intellectual disabilities. The IKEA Alexandra Store Manager and HR manager at the time wanted to see if youths’ future employment possibilities and their chance to be self-reliant could improve if working at an IKEA store.

Here is how the programme works: Each student works with an IKEA co-worker, called a “buddy”, two days a week for 3.5 hours per session. There are 10 sessions in all. The intern might help to prepare hot dogs in the IKEA Bistro, replenish stock or fold towels. The school’s trainer is there for the first few sessions. Buddies mentor the interns – they clear up any questions or doubts, and step in if necessary to help communicate with customers. After the internship, students go back to school and continue their education.

Peter Chua P H, a sales leader at IKEA Alexandra, worked with some of the students.

“I was amazed by the interns’ dedication and attitude at work right from the start,” said Peter Chua P H, an IKEA Alexandra team leader. “They were ready to listen and stay focused on the jobs. I attribute this to their teachers’ education and support.”

Now three schools are active in the work experience programme – APSN Tanglin, APSN Katong and APSN Delta Senior. Delta Senior is a training centre for youths and young adults who graduate from the other APSN schools. In addition to providing internships, the IKEA Alexandra store has made cash and product donations to the school, and invited the interns’ parents to the store to see the working environment.

“The warmth and assurance from the mentors and staff have helped our students to become more confident,” said Lim Thiam Teck, Head Instructor at the APSN Tanglin School. “The job experience exposes them to the world of work and gives them the opportunity to apply what was learned in school.”

Store co-worker laughing together

One former intern now works for IKEA Alexandra. Muhammed Amirul bin Abdul Razak is a permanent part-time sales assistant in the Cookshop Department at IKEA Alexandra and “definitely a great help in our business,” said his sales leader, Peter Chua P H.

Amirul applied for his job after graduation, along with all the other applicants. Today his duties include stock preparation, customer service and order updates.

“The work program in the IKEA store has helped to disprove the perception that people with disabilities can only do certain jobs,” says Kalaivani Arjunan, Employer Relations Officer at APSN Delta Senior. “It has shown the public that [people with disabilities] can be on the front line, doing customer-service related jobs.”

In November 2014, APSN gave its highest accolade to IKEA Singapore – the Outstanding You Make a Difference award, in recognition for the contributions made by both stores and co-workers.

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