“All of us will have special needs in a matter of time.”

Fairmarch is proud to kickstart a series “Let’s Be Friends”. It is a series of interviews and stories from friends of different backgrounds and different abilities. Just imagine having a cup of coffee (or any preferred beverage!) with a friend on a relaxing afternoon and asking them “How are you today?”

These stories will give you a closer peek at our friends’ lives and experience a snippet of their routines.

“Let’s Be Friends” aims to provide a comfortable, cosy space for all of us to learn and form personal perspectives on how society can aim to be kinder and even more inclusive.

The first series touches on the topic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Expect interviews of 3 friends- a friend with autism, another who hires and lastly, one who is a mum to a daughter on the spectrum. If you are ready, read on!

From a friend,

Val.O

“All of us will have special needs in a matter of time.”

Let’s Be Friends with Bernard from Iron Nori!

Knowing I was about to interview a professional representative of a company, I had my fingers crossed that I would be able to get honest answers and you know, not just politically sweet-sounding ones. Boy, was glad I spoke to Bernard.

With a calm, assuring voice, Bernard was sincere and open to sharing how Iron Nori, a company that hires people with different abilities, grew and adapted in the last few years. Through our conversation, I could feel how proud he was of the progresses it has made and the journey it took to get here.

Hi Bernard! Could you share with us more about yourself and Iron Nori?

Sure! Hi I’m Bernard, a volunteer strategic operations consultant with Iron Nori for the last three years.

Iron Nori is a F&B company that hires a diversity of people with different abilities. 40-50% of our staff are persons with disabilities, with a majority with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and are mildly intellectually disabled. 30% of our staff are from the underserved community, including the low income and ex-offenders.

We started off at as a regular F&B 12 years ago, but our shareholders have always been involved with the special needs’ community. What started off as a casual idea to be more inclusive gradually became an official HR policy and a priority for us now.

Nice! That is very heart-warming to know. What do your staff with autism help with at the restaurant? 

Emil standing behind wall sticker of Iron

Emil Ng with austim in this photo

For our staff with autism, they start off as stewards, with one of their job requirements to sanitise the restaurant. This is especially important now with COVID-19 and frankly, they are excellent at this role! I dare say even better than us. A few of them are even telling us that we are not doing a good enough job!

After being a steward for 3 to 6 months, if possible, they will be promoted to be a runner where they serve food and have a more social role. Thereafter they can progress into an order-taker, cashier or even take on supervisory roles. Some of them are even mentoring our special needs interns now.

How does Iron Nori make this progress possible for your staff? 

Iron Nori uses a lot of technological aids. For example, our special needs accountant uses technology to scan in invoices and have the software compute and balance accounts. Our cashiers also enjoy cashless modes of transactions now.

The company designs systems with our special needs staff as priority. Our other staff will then fit in. If we do it the other way and expect our special needs staff to adapt as an afterthought, it will not be easy, resulting in bad job fits and them not being able to sustain, let alone excel in their positions.

What do you think your staff with autism excel in?

Emil folding box

They are great at following the company’s rules and actually, they are more punctual than our other staff! (hearty laughter) It is usually the staff with autism who reaches work first every day. They are excellent with details and are the best staff to sanitise the restaurant now (as mentioned previously).

Has there been a memorable staff that you can share with us about?

Emil in kitchen

Emil is one of our outstanding staff. He was initially trained to join the healthcare industry in school, however, after working for a while, he was unable to cope and he got transferred to the F&B industry, joining our company. With the supportive environment at Iron Nori, he is learning and growing and doing very well now. His frank personality has also become a big hit in the restaurant!

I believe it is also thanks to his colleagues and bosses who allow him to shine and be himself! With that, do you have any advice for those out there who hire? 

Emil folding boxes with his colleague

Try to minimise disruption to your staff with autism. Even during the period of Circuit Breaker, we let our staff continue working at usual hours despite the decreased footfall. Try to stick to the routine as much as possible so that when things go back to normal, your staff will be just as ready as they were before.

What is your dream for an inclusive society?

Enil and his colleague sititng behind

I don’t know where to begin. We need to find a balance where technology helps our staff and increases productivity but not replace them completely. I believe the future for our friends with special needs lies in the amount of technology businesses are willing to integrate to cover the gaps. Frankly, all of us will have special needs in a matter of time. When we age, we will require such assistance too.

Currently, there is also a gap between education and job requirements that I wish can gradually be sorted out. For example, teachers and parents would like their children to be able to count and practise counting even on the job after school. I understand the importance of learning basic mathematics. However, for businesses, we prefer using automated POS systems and other technological aids where manual counting is not required. This causes a little tension in the different approaches we take to develop the child.

I believe if such tensions can be sorted, we can all better work together in the ecosystem to build a more inclusive society.

Thank you Bernard! Thank you for this chat and your honest opinions. Lots of food for thought for me to brood about too! Any last words to round up?

Come to our café to know more! Nothing beats visiting the space and experiencing it to know the impact it creates. Happy to host you![/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]Now that you’ve heard from Bernard, it is time to show your support for Iron Nori! More about the restaurant can be found here. Grab some friends and family and head down for a sumptuous meal soon!

You can also shop conveniently at Fairmarch – your one-stop online shop where you can find other social enterprises too! Shop away!

By Fairmarch Volunteer Writer, Valerie Ong

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