Cross-border SE Learning: Disability Employment

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ChangeFusion co-hosted the second SOIL (Social Innovation Link) workshop, it had been successfully held in Tokyo in the first week of July 2019, following the first one that was held in Bangkok in early April, thanks to the generous support of the Japan Foundation. 

Disability employment was one of the main themes of the workshop, focusing on the exchange in knowledge and collaboration between Social Innovation Foundation (SIF) from Thailand which has put forward innovative ways in hiring persons with disabilities (PWDs) and Litalico from Japan, a company engaged in disabled employment support and had launched IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2016.

In Thailand, companies are required to hire 1 PWD for every 100 employees that they have. Those who are unable to fulfill the employment quota would have to pay a penalty. In the past few years, SIF has put together new model of indirect hiring to assist companies in reaching the quota, by hiring PWDs, who may indeed be located far away from the companies, to take up employment at social organizations in their hometown such as local hospitals and schools. It created a win-win-win situation in which the companies hiring the PWDs do not need to pay the penalty, the PWDs obtain stable income and can work close from home, and the local social organizations get additional labour force at low costs.  

To date, SIF, together with its partners, have successfully created over 6,000 jobs for PWDs. Yet, the operation has been heavily reliant on external funding. In order to build sustainability for the foundation, SIF has set up a new strategy in developing job training and placement service and promoting direct employment of the disabled. Besides, SIF has already had the plan to set up a co-working space to train PWDs and prepare them for job placement. Hence it has been one of the key agenda of the SOIL workshop for SIF to learn from their counterpart in Japan, Litalico, who have substantial experience in running such services for both the disabled and employers. 

In this trip to Tokyo, Litalico had introduced SIF to one of their local partners, Recruit, which is a group of companies that provides HR technology, media and solutions and staffing services. Recruit Office Support, one of their subsidiaries that provide back end office support such as administration work, IT support, etc., currently hires 336 persons with disabilities (PWDs) out of 384 employees. It started from the founder’s intention to open up more employment opportunities for PWDs almost 30 years ago. At the beginning, only some simple printing tasks were assigned to a PWD staff. As time passed by, both the diversity of jobs for the PWDs and the types of disabilities accepted increased. 

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There are 464 companies in Japan that share the same practice as Recruit by setting up a specialized unit for taking in PWD staff. It stemmed from the employment law that mandates every company with over 50 employees to fulfill a 2.2% PWD employment requirement. Companies that are unable to reach the quota would be publicized. Therefore in order to avoid negative impacts on the corporate or brand image, most companies are highly motivated to fulfill the requirement, which has gradually created some form of competition for PWDs in the job market.  As a result, companies are incentivized to upgrade their facilities to attract PWDs, further lowering the threshold for PWDs to employment. The application of universal design has already been a norm for most office space in Japan.  

Litalico is a corporation that provides comprehensive support to PWDs and consultation to companies to facilitate PWD employment. Companies like Recruit are their major clients. Key areas of support for the PWDs include recruitment and assessment, training, job placement and follow up. Being in their fourteenth year of operation, Litalico has developed extensive programs, standardized work processes and tools which had enabled them to expand throughout the country. Currently they have 77 bases located in different prefectures and have been helping over thousands of PWDs gain employment every year.  

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One may wonder what revenue model has enabled Litalico to develop into such a scale. In terms of employment service, government is the main service buyer. All the training costs of the PWDs are covered by the government. In addition, Litalico would be further rewarded by the government if the job retention rate of the PWDs is satisfactory. It highlights one of the most critical differences between Japan and Thailand since government support in Thailand is still limited. 

Compared to its counterparts in Japan, SIF’s work in terms of direct employment support is still at a very early stage. Yet, Recruit’s example and Litalico’s experience has in a way proved that SIF is on the right track. The visit to Japan has also provided valuable insights into the development direction of the new co-working space for PWDs training in Thailand. 

As a continuation of the workshop, the upcoming plan would be to organize study trips for SIF to learn in-depth the work processes, training and assessment tools of Litalico and their actual application in Thailand’s context. 

Special thanks to Ken Ito to make all these possible!

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Sunit Shrestha