Youth with autism secure work placements through UnikLearn programme

With a gap in employment amongst those with disabilities in Brunei, UnikLearn's first cycle paves the way for autistic youth to build careers

Chairman of An-Nur Harapan Pg Hj Salleh Ab-Rahaman Pg Hj Damit (6th R) with UnikLearn's trainees and project management at their graduation ceremony.

Five Bruneian youth with autism and developmental disorders have secured work placements through the pilot cycle vocational programme UnikLearn.

The trainees – who officially graduated earlier today at the Rizqun International Hotel – have earned internships at the Ministry of Finance’s cafeteria operated by Royal Brunei Catering (RBC), Noice and Project Ice Cream.

Their placements are strategically within the F&B industry, having spent the past six months learning and then selling UnikLearn’s own brand of ice cream UnikKone, which was developed in partnership with Kingston Beverage & Creamery.

UnikLearn was developed by social enterprise An-Nur Harapan, who engaged venture builder Startup Brunei to oversee the project’s implementation with special education startup Spark Lifeskill conducting the training out of their centre in Jangsak.

Board member of An-Nur Harapan’s Noorsurainah Tengah said that it was critical that the work placements lead to employment. According to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports’ records, only 56 out of the 9,282 people with disabilities in Brunei are employed.

UnikKone acts as the training ground for the UnikLearn programme. The founders believe that after classroom training, trainees must put into practice what they learn, before they are ready for professional emplyoment. UnikLearn intends to follow a similar model for future courses.

“Our (UnikLearn) founding mission is to empower autistic youth to be independent by giving them the right training that will help them gain meaningful employment,” said Noorsurainah.

“With UnikKone for the first cycle, we’re targeting the F&B industry, but we are planning for the future cycles to target other professions and industries such as agriculture.”

UnikLearn’s trainees – aged between 17 to 25-years-old – spent four months training with Spark Lifeskill’s therapists in Jangsak before operating UnikKone’s ice cream station at Cultivate Bistro at Progresif’s headquarters in Gadong for two months and at Bandarku Ceria.

Lead therapist of Spark Lifeskill Chua Chee Boon said that for the first cycle, UnikLearn’s syllabus focused on developing three key competencies; communications, fine motor skills and functional maths. The trainees were taught these mostly within the context of operating UnikKone.

Boon (L) overseeing training for UnikLearn through UnikKone’s mock setup at Spark Lifeskill’s training centre in Jangsak. UnikLearn is a fee-paying programme, with the five trainees receiving scholarships from An-Nur Harapan and Progresif Cellular to undergo training.

“Communications is probably the most important since this is often the biggest challenge for those with autism,” said Boon.

“We’re teaching them how to initiate a topic, how to maintain, as well as how to end a conversation appropriately. Fine motor skills comes in when you’re scooping and serving the ice cream and setting up the shop. And functional maths comes in when you’re calculating the customers’ orders and sales.”

The managers of Noice and Project Ice Cream shared that they intend to hire the trainees after probation, with other recruitment professionals attending UnikLearn’s graduation at also expressing interest in taking on their trainees, including those from future cycles.

Mohd Syahmi Hj Juma’at, who has begun making Noice’s specialty sandwiches, said that he dreams of one day being able to progress to being a chef or open his own business.

“I enjoy working with Firdaus (Noice’s manager),” said 20-year-old. “He has taught me a lot and I want to make more types of sandwiches soon. And maybe have my own (business) someday.”

UnikLearn graduates Syahmi (L) and Firdaus who are working at Noice and RBC respectively.

To learn more visit UnikLearn’s website and contact +6738267013 or [email protected] to get in touch directly.