Devoting his career to helping people with special needs stay employed
Anders Tan, 35, runs social enterprise Inclus that helps people with special needs to get jobs and hold on to them.
By and large, Anders Tan appears to be a successful businessman. The 35-year-old is a co-founder of his company, has started his own family and owns a place of his own in Bukit Panjang.
But that is probably where the similarities between Anders and most other businessmen end. Anders’ business, Inclus, is a social enterprise that focuses on helping people with special needs to find a job and hold on to it.
He rakes in about $1,000 to $2,000 a month – not exactly the sum one would expect the co-founder of a successful business to earn, yet he’s unfazed by that.
For Anders and his co-founders Arudra Vangal and Shaun Tan, the amount they earn does not matter, so long as they can help make a difference in the lives of others; Namely people with special needs who aren’t able to hold down jobs because of varying reasons.
The whole idea of Inclus started when Anders was trying to source for a job for his brother-in-law, who is on the autism spectrum.
“I witnessed and experienced a very challenging job hunt process with all the employers I was trying to source a job from,” explained Anders, “partly because they do not understand how to manage those with special needs and provide job support when they are at work.”
Although his brother-in-law eventually managed to secure some jobs, he ended up changing jobs four times in four months.
“As a family we felt powerless. I think to a point where… it pains you, because there’s nothing else you can do. We can’t be there supporting him at work. We can’t be there to teach the employer how to work with people with special needs.
“That drove us quite crazy because whenever he came home, he would be annoyed, angry, and feel helpless. He even cried at times,” recalled Anders.
“So I think that really brought us to the point where we needed to do something about it.”
At Inclus, trainees will undergo a series of training sessions to help them understand and adapt better to the workplace, as well as interact more comfortably with their co-workers. The social enterprise – which has a partnership with the Institute of Technical Education – will then help the trainees secure employment with their 11 employer partners.
“It will be a very smooth transition because we put you into the job directly. The next thing we do is to provide job support, provide the job coaches when the individual is at work and also work with employers to help them understand the way to communicate with the individual,” shared Anders.
And that aspect is where Anders play a key role. While Shawn handles the development of the programmes and training and Arudra the marketing and communications work, Anders acts as the bridge between Inclus, the trainees and the employer partners.
He constantly checks in on the trainees at their workplaces, as well as check in with their supervisors to find out how they are doing. He also updates the employer partners on what are the plans in place for the trainees.
“Generally, my role is to ensure that everybody is comfortable as we progress, not just the trainee themselves, but also the employer and the people working directly with the change,” shared Anders.
It’s proven to be a model that’s working thus far. At least three batches of trainees have gone through Inclus’ programmes since the organisation was started in 2019. About 70 per cent – or 14 individuals – have been successfully placed into jobs.
One of the trainees that Inclus have helped is 27-year-old Goh Heng Yi, who has high-functioning autism – a classification where the individual exhibits no intellectual disability, but may exhibit deficits in communication, emotion recognition and expression, and social interaction.
Heng Yi has a degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the Nanyang Technological University. Yet, prior to receiving Inclus’ help, he had no job offers, despite attending more than 40 job interviews.
Anders said Heng Yi has drawn praise from his supervisor at work. Heng Yi has helped his senior colleagues to streamline their work processes through the help of technology and has even taught them useful functions they were not using before.
Additionally, Heng Yi overcame his shyness and is more willing to approach others.
“We are happy for them. Not just for the trainees, but their family members too. To us, we treat everybody as part of our family. As long as they go through the programme, we spend time getting to know them even better.
“It takes time and effort to know them and over time, it builds up a relationship. Through our programme, when we see them getting jobs and be able to stay in the job, we are extremely excited. We are not just able to be a family member who counsels them, but also to get them a job and help them become financially stable,” Anders remarked.
Anders, who graduated from the Singapore Management University in 2013 with a degree in information systems management, said that his job gives him satisfaction and meaning.
And being someone who loves to help others – he’s volunteered at several charities over the years – Anders just has one goal for the future: To expand Inclus’ operations and reach out to more people with special needs.
“We plan to reach out to more special needs students… We are looking to reach out to more students who have graduated from the [mainstream education] system, where they are still looking for a job,” shared Anders.
Apart from that, they also have another loftier ambition to expand overseas and help people with special needs in the region. In fact, they have already started some work in India.
All this with the simple goal of preventing anyone with special needs from experiencing the disappointment that Heng Yi or Anders’ brother-in-law had.