One Step At A Time

VADS Berhad (VADS) is one of Malaysia’s leading Managed Integrated ICT/BPO Service Provider. It was established as a joint venture between IBM and Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM) and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of TM when IBM left a few years later. Using technology and business processes to help companies achieve their objectives, VADS is considered one of the industry leaders on a sustainable basis. In this issue, CSR Malaysia speaks to Ahmad Azhar Yahya, Chief Executive Officer of VADS on its CSR programme, STEP-UP.

As a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) provider, VADS faces the challenge of a relatively high staff high turnover rate as is the norm in the industry. In such a situation, the organisation looked at an alternative source of manpower – People with Different Abilities (PwDs), which proved to be a great alternative as this was a talent pool which had been generally untapped. Azhar was determined that VADS was not going to let their disability become a barrier; instead the organisation decided to leverage on their other abilities. Thus, VADS set out to address this challenge by launching the Strategic Transformation and Enablement Programme to Up Skill Professionals Programme, also known as STEP-UP Programme in short.

“We began the process of employing PwDs by firstly establishing a multi-disciplinary Working Committee, comprising representatives from the Operations, Human Capital, Training & Development, Employee Engagement, Facilities and Technology departments to drive this initiative and ensure that staff welfare and special requirements were taken care of effectively and that all staff were fully engaged,” explains Azhar.

The STEP-UP Programme entails a customised approach in sourcing, screening, training and on-boarding of PwDs or ‘STEP-Uppers’ into suitable work in the contact centre environment at VADS. For this programme to succeed for both the candidates as well as for VADS, the organisation had to step out of the box. “A key success factor was that we also re-engineered processes to optimise the capabilities of the PwDs,” adds Azhar.

To accommodate the different needs of the STEP-Uppers, several facilities were built to ease their work life in the organisation. Ramps, provisions of automatic doors, PwDs-friendly elevators and height adjustment for security tagging of sensor matic doors were installed everywhere in its PwDs centre in Kelana Jaya.

Besides that, VADS also worked to ensure the STEP-Uppers had a good working environment. A custom karaoke room was built for them to chill out and a dedicated sick bay is provided where they can get some rest and have their special needs attended to.

In the areas of job placement, job matching, job modification and worksite availability, VADS has an aspiration to absorb PwDs not only into other projects within the BPO division but also into the ICT division. “As long as they are able to fulfil the requirements of the job, we are willing to take them on,” says Azhar.

So, what does it take for companies to provide a good career platform for PwDs? Azhar explains that the first step is to break the stigma and mental barrier within the organisation and society at large with regards to disability. “We need to disregard disability as an object of welfare and to start considering the ‘ability’ as an approach for societal integration,” he says. The best example can be seen through VADS’s PwD centre in Kelana Jaya. In the centre, the able-bodied employees mix freely with their lesser-abled colleagues and are always ready to lend a hand. Azhar adds that their PwD staffs are also very comfortable there. This can be seen when some of them work without their prosthesis as they are comfortable being with others who have similar disabilities. “We are proud to note that we have started a change in the mind-set and culture in our organisation,” he beams.

In addition, focusing on leadership and capacity building can also build a good career platform for PwDs.“We believe that leadership and capacity enhancements are important factors in establishing a good career path for our employees and our PwDs are no exception. They undergo the same trainings and share the same chances for career growth as their other colleagues,” Azhar explains.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may involve a whole lot of things but how significant or important is it to hire PWDs under CSR initiatives? CSR, as defined by the EU (European Union), is ‘a concept in which the enterprise serves as the foundation of voluntary basic social and environment interests, which is integrated with its corporate activities and in its relations with its stakeholders.’ (European Commission 2001a:5).

However, VADS’ decision to start hiring PwDs was not solely due to its CSR activities but because it believes that this group of people could meet its business requirements and could contribute to the growth of the organisation. As a result, the society saw this as a highly commendable exercise and VADS has received a number of awards for its STEP-UP Programme. One of the most notable awards is the SOCSO’s Platinum Award for its ‘Return to Work National Award 2011’. This award was given out by the Malaysian Social Government Agency in recognising organisations that employ the most number of people with disabilities.