Autism is a lifelong developmental exceptionality, challenging an individual’s ability to communicate, socialize and adapt to the world around him.
It is a spectrum condition which manifests in different ways in different people. While some need help with daily living, many persons with autism (PWAs) have abilities and talents – like exceptional memory, extraordinary spatial skills and organization – that are easily translated to desirable qualities in the workplace.
Inspired by best practices in community-based rehabilitation, SM Markets and the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) partnered for a disability workplace inclusion program called “AutiSM at Work.”
The program piloted at Savemore Market Light Residences last year, immersing three persons with autism, who were assigned various tasks in the supermarket selling area, such as returning stray items, organizing carts and baskets, as well as assisting customers.
Among the pioneers is Rhav Lomboy, a goodlooking young man who comes across as shy to anyone who meets him for the first time. He loves to sing and is passionate about drums. He performed with his schoolmates for 25,000 spectators at the MOA Arena for a huge advocacy event early this year. He balances his hobbies and vocational training with his duties at Savemore Market Light Residences.
Together with 11 other PWAs, Lomboy showed to the world that young adults on the spectrum can be productive contributors in a workplace, such as a supermarket.
Simultaneously, there was an in-store advocacy campaign to help educate customers on how to deal respectfully with workers with autism. The impact study proved the effectiveness of business, employee culture and social benefits of the PWA workplace inclusion effort.
“We want to extend it and we have to challenge ourselves on how can we make the program better. There are other opportunities for PWAs to explore and we are glad that we were able to be the first to open our doors to them,” said Savemore Market president Jojo Tagbo.
As the program celebrates its first year in July, SM Markets plan to expand the program to several branches, spanning Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Candidates undergo interviews and assessments to ensure job-ready skills and behaviors with the UP College of Education administering an occupational aptitude and interest test to properly match the candidates to the job requirements.
ASP also meets with the candidates’ families to ensure the PWAs will receive relevant support towards job success. The shortlist is then endorsed to SM Markets where the candidates go through the standard recruitment and training process.
“AutiSM at Work is a great ‘foot in the door.’ It really gave these young men the opportunity to show what they can do. PWAs are very diverse and are capable of contributing to the business. SM was able to help us prove it,” ASP national president Mona Magno-Veluz said.