Beyond the profits

SPC Wearnes recently got a Special Mention award by Singapore Compact for CSR for its efforts in hiring ex-offenders.

By ELEANOR YAP

Long before the Yellow Ribbon Project Singapore was launched to help rehabilitate ex-offenders, SPC Wearnes was already partnering with the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) to hire ex-offenders and re-integrate them back into society. Since 1993, the company that distributes Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) in Singapore has hired more than 440 ex-offenders, who have mainly been involved in petty crimes.

SALT Online finds out more from Ernest Tan, finance manager of SPC Wearnes. The company was recently given the “Caring Employer” award-Special Mention at the Singapore Compact for CSR annual awards:

 

SPC Wearnes has hired more than 440 ex-offenders since 1993.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • To meet the company’s business needs (manpower crunch) – An increase in manpower demand amidst the economic recovery back in 1993 resulted in labour shortage across many industries. With SPC Wearnes’ increased production and to address the labour challenges, our company embarked on an active programme of employing ex-offenders in the context of supporting the Government’s objective of rehabilitating them.
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  • Respond to the Government’s call for an inclusive society – We understood the aims and fully affirmed this call for an inclusive society to help ex-offenders to re-integrate back into society. With gainful employment, ex-offenders can be successfully rehabilitated and can contribute meaningfully to society. 

 

  • In line with company’s policy or CSR efforts – SPC Wearnes has adopted its parent company’s Safety, Health and Environment Policy. It stated as to “extend charitable support to the community through sponsorship of socio-environmental projects and other causes”. The decision was made in 1993 to support the employment of ex-offenders through the SCORE programme. 
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What jobs are most of these ex-offenders in?

Mostly as production workers, charge-hands and administrative assistants.

What are some challenges when hiring ex-offenders? Can you share an example?

Extra mentoring and guidance have to be given during training and corrective actions need to be done immediately when ex-offenders do not conform to our policies, practices and procedures. Generally speaking, they do not stay committed to their first jobs being posted by the prison authorities but for those who are given a second posting due to different reasons for not succeeding in the first jobs, they will treasure subsequent opportunities given to them.

A recent example of such challenges was when two ex-offenders employed by our company fought and hurt each other despite repeated warnings not to resort to violence. As a result, they had to be sent for counselling and followed with disciplinary actions.

Currently, how many ex-offenders do you have on staff?

We currently have five contract and permanent staff who are formerly ex-offenders plus three to five who are recruited through SCORE on a regular short-term basis.

What are some initiatives you have in place for them so that they can integrate into the workforce?

Some of the employment practices adopted by our company include fair remuneration, recognising good work performance, structured orientation plan, assigning of buddies, monthly HR dialogue sessions, identifying supportive supervisors, on-the-job training and skills upgrading through training.

SPC Wearnes will assign mentors and buddies to ex-offenders during their job programmes. Mentors will supervise these ex-offenders at their workstations and ensure that they are going through the smooth transition with constant counselling. Whilst for the buddies, their responsibilities are to coach and ensure that they perform according to our standard operating procedures.

Having them around, you also need to create a conducive work environment amongst the other staff. How have you done that over the years?

Our company believes in fair employment practices and diversity which are crucial in attracting and retaining good staff. Recognition of merit-based and unbiased employment practices have proven to be fairly successful. Advocacy of fair employment practices should not simply be about paying lip service. It needs to be part of the organisation’s values, and supported throughout all ranks.

To sustain the value of fair and inclusive employment practices, it is important for HR to play the role of custodian. HR must ensure relevant and objective selection criteria are related to job requirements, and are applied consistently across all stages of the recruitment and selection process. HR should also review its current practices within the organisation, and focus on training HR personnel and/or hiring managers with applicable skills to manage the recruitment and selection process. HR personnel and hiring managers should also be tasked with communicating the benefits of fair employment practices, and be able to serve as role models.

 

Mostly of the ex-offenders working at SPC Wearnes are working as production workers, charge-hands and administrative assistants.

Our company has made cash donations to welfare organisations and elderly homes, and also sponsored free LPGs to Singapore Cheshire Home for the past few years.

Can you give three pieces of advice to companies who are keen to hire ex-convicts?

  1. Role model for them to learn from – A supervisor needs to demonstrate his commitment to help ex-offenders and be a role model for them to learn from. He has to be approachable, knowledgeable, non-judgmental, thoughtful, humble and kind-hearted.
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  3. Hold purposeful engagements (e.g. regular dialogue sessions) with them to understand and address their concerns and lend them support in other areas of their life – We conduct regular toolbox meetings and trainings to update every staff on any news and engage all other staff appropriately. Sessions of counselling will be provided to them whenever any problems arise.
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  5. Observe and monitor their work attitude, and identify issues that might distract them from work – Constant observation and monitoring of ex-offenders’ work attitudes by their mentors and buddies. Any “off-track” attitude of ex-offenders should be followed up immediately.

 

SIDEBOX: An chat with a 48-year-old ex-offender, who was promoted last year. He asked to not be named or photographed:

May I ask what petty crime you committed and how young were you then?

I was convicted for possession of illegal drugs when I was in my 30s and I was jailed for a year.

How long have you been working at SPC Wearnes?

I have worked here for five years.

I understand you got promoted last year, what was your previous post and what is your current role and responsibility?

I was the assistant charge-hand. I have now greater responsibilities, as a full-fledged charge-hand as now I cover my supervisor in his absence.

Was it challenging at the beginning finding a job?

It was an ordeal; those who have lived through it can truly understand the pain of criminal life and incarceration, and the scars they leave behind. After release from prison I experienced multiple rejections in getting a job. I was frustrated after trying every possible way to find employment and was not getting hired. Among the many problems was how to support my sick parents who were constantly on my mind when I was out of a job.

The Prison Case Managers (CMs) play an important role in helping ex-offenders keep things in perspective by reminding them that while a first job might not be ideal, it is an opportunity to gain valuable skills and experiences, develop networks, gain potential references, and develop a reputation as a hardworking and skilled employee. This will likely open up possibilities for advancement or new job opportunities at a different company where pay and benefits are better, and the work is more satisfying.

What about challenges in the job itself?

Ex-offenders need to understand and overcome the challenges they may face after securing a job. Attitude is essential to being successful at work. “Soft skills” – being dependable and positive, following instructions, working well with others – can be as important as technical skills. A good attitude at work will help an ex-offender to build a better future.

Can you give two pieces of advice to other ex-offenders who are looking for work?

  1. Ex-offenders shall be responsible for their own actions.
  2. Persevere and earn back the trust from family, friends, colleagues, employers and the community in order to move forward in life.

 

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