BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Since the inception of the Uniklearn programme in June 2018, more businesses have expressed interest in taking in Uniklearn trainees, comprising youths with autism, as interns.

The programme — a collaboration between Start Up Brunei, An-Nur Harapan, Spark Lifeskill and Progresif Cellular — provides vocational training and work experience for autistic youths, aiming to help them break into the workforce.

According to Noorsurainah Tengah, a board member of An-Nur Harapan, the programme and its ice cream pop-up cafe has gained considerable exposure.

She noted that prior to finishing the programme, Uniklearn’s first batch of trainees have been offered many work placements by businesses.

“There were no barriers, no hesitations [by these businesses], just a genuine willingness to make an impact in the trainees’ lives,” said Noorsurainah.

“In fact, the challenge we face now is juggling the internship with their timing to complete the programme as the offers have overlapped if not surpassed in both numbers and quality.”

Graduates of the Uniklearn pilot programme. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/ The Scoop

On Friday, five Uniklearn trainees were  honoured in a graduation ceremony at the Rizqun International Hotel, Gadong, commemorating the completion of their six-month training.

The graduates are currently doing a three-month internship or work place attachments at several eateries such as Noice Cafe, Royal Brunei Catering (RBC) at the Ministry of Finance and Economy and Project Ice Cream.

However, Queenie Chong from Start Up Brunei highlighted that  industries have to restructure and business models must adapt in order to stay competitive and continue to create good jobs for locals. The  issue is not an insufficiency of jobs, but a mismatch of skills, she said.

“Our challenge is to ensure that no Bruneians with autism, especially those that are willing to learn and acquire skills that are necessary to meet the changing needs of their current industry, are [offered] fair job opportunity,” said Chong.

She commended the graduates, who seized the initiative and opportunities to improve, despite the challenges they faced while also fulfilling family commitments.

The graduates were presented with certificates by the guest of honour Pg Hj Salleh Ab-Rahaman Pg Hj Damit, chairman of An-Nur Harapan Sdn Bhd.

Among the recipients was Muhammad Hafizzudin Husain Hj Md Yussof Thani, who felt happy to have completed the programme.

“I enjoyed and learned so much through the training and look forward to gaining skills and earning money for myself in the future,” said the 18-year-old.

Prior to joining the programme, he worked as an attendant at a convenience store and is currently doing his work placement for Royal Brunei Catering (RBC).

For 20 year old Mohammad Syahmi Hj Jumaat who is currently doing his placement at Noice Cafe in Kiulap since October, he felt grateful for the opportunity to participate in Uniklearn.

“I’m very happy to have gone through the training… I believe it has improved my skills and communication.”

After completing their placements, the graduates will have the opportunity to continue working at the eateries, said Noorsurainah.

“It is up to employees to decide whether or not they want to extend the placements [after 3 months]. We will also be assisting them to find employment elsewhere.”

“The goal is gainful employment, for them to be independent individuals and earn sustainable income,” she added.

Recruitment of the second batch of trainees will begin early next year where the syllabus will be developed to include a wider range of skills and areas of interest such as culinary work, gardening and fitness.