Sheltered employment is a common arrangement in many countries with diverse organizations providing opportunities for people with disabilities. The available structures are recognized as offering complete participation of the population in the economy. Providers of the sheltered facilities and other supportive services for individuals with special needs use management models, emanating from the commercial settings, including quality control procedures to get ISO 9000 certification (Visier 347). Under the ISO 9001 standard, sheltered workshops are initiated to provide training and employment to persons with disabilities. For example, in Israel, for the last five years, Chimes Israel has provided such training and employment arrangements under the ISO 9001 standard. The sheltered programs are offered under service and employment regulations to meet the eligibility criteria for Israel Standards Institute (Chimes Israel). Although sheltered workshops follow a similar model, institutional approaches have evolved over the years, depending on different legal contexts that range from specific provisions governing organizations to the general business law in a particular country (Visier 347). While the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has adopted some form of sheltered employment, including vocational training and workshops, the model is limited and differs from other countries such as Sweden and Canada; hence, the country can learn some important lessons to implement the best practice in these areas.
Vocational Training, Sheltered Employment, and Sheltered Workshops in the UAE
Equal and fair employment for people with special needs is a requirement in the UAE. The country has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that guides the employment arrangements for people with disabilities (“Employment of People of Determination”). The law has special provisions for the employment of the individuals, but the standards are below those employed in other countries, especially the developed economies. Federal Law No. 29 of 2006 Concerning the Rights of People with Special Needs and the Dubai Government Law No. 2 of 2014 are the legislation that protect the citizens (“Employment of People of Determination”). The national laws require individuals with special needs to work and hold government positions. Therefore, their challenges should not hinder them from being nominated for any job. At the same time, their needs should be considered when assessing their competency for the position (“Employment of People of Determination”). The UAE law provides exceptional opportunities for such workers.
While the UAE law is supportive of equal employment opportunities for people with disability, it does not have adequate provisions for vocational training and sheltered employment for these individuals. The model is facing increasing controversy across the world but can work if executed correctly to avoid discriminative or exploitive practices. Many lessons can be learned from other countries such as Canada and Sweden and implement sheltered workshop standards to support the employment needs of people with disabilities.
Sheltered Workshops in Sweden
The Program. Sweden uses a transitional model where state-owned groups such as Samhall AB provide sheltered workshops. Samhall AB is a major service provider in Sweden that provides diverse services, including warehousing and logistics, cleaning and laundry, care services, workplace and property services, retail industry, and manufacturing. The company has a mission of creating real and inspiring employment opportunities for individuals with functional impairment, which affect their ability to work in conventional organizations (Mallender et al. 26). Thus, the firm operates sheltered workshops for personal and professional development for such individuals. The organisation offer on-site employment to individuals with functional disability and support transition to jobs in the open market. Sheltered employment is an arrangement where individuals with disabilities are provided training and services to develop work-related skills. The concept of “shelter” emanates from the safety and protection offered to these individuals from social challenges such as discrimination (Armstrong). In Sweden, sheltered employment arrangements are made possible under the national disability legislation. Samhall AB is a devolved facility, operating 370 workshops under the management of councils and municipalities (Mallender et al. 26). Mallender et al. further state that the company employed 20,000 individuals in 2013 in 200 localities across the country (26). Sheltered employment in Sweden is supported by the law and the human rights requirements of both the UN and the EU. Individuals with disabilities are afforded lower chances than others in the general population (Ng et al. 1156). Therefore, sheltered workshops and programs are the basis for supporting the reasonable living standards for individuals with disabilities in Sweden. Sheltered employment is the main model in Sweden provided by Samhall in support of employability of people with disabilities.
Laws and Rights, and Protection. Sweden is one of the countries under the European Union. While unemployment is a universal problem in the EU, it affects some individuals and groups at a higher rate than others. The level of joblessness among people with disabilities (18.3 percent) is almost twice that of the general population (9.9 percent) (Mallender et al. 11). Therefore, the sheltered employment model is necessary to address the challenge since it follows the legal framework defined by the EU as well as the national guidelines for the workshops. The national guidelines within the EU depend on the model of sheltered employment in the individual country. In Sweden, for example, the state has a specialised group, Samhall AB, responsible for the implementation of sheltered workshops. The state requires the organization to provide on-site employment for individuals with severe disabilities (Mallender 26). The guidelines affect the entire sheltered employment sector, unlike in other countries, such as the UK where single entities provide the sheltered arrangements (Visier 348).
Universal design is one of the approaches in the region that describes the creation of sheltered workshops and employment. The initiative is created to ensure that the needs of individuals with disabilities are considered when creating the working environment. The 2004 Public Procurement Directive introduced “Design for All,” the universal model that has become accepted in the region (Mallender et al. 12). The initiative was a part of creating a suitable working environment for individuals with disabilities.
Training, Support, and Development Opportunities. The sheltered workshop model in Sweden operates from the perspective of preparing individuals with disabilities to gain meaningful open employment or retaining them in the long-term to earn a living. Therefore, the length of stay in the training centres differs, depending on individual needs. The available organizations have given work to thousands of individuals with special needs in the country (Mallender et al. 12). These institutions also provide the necessary support to those wishing to transition into regular employment after developing the skills to work in such environments.
Assessment Criteria, Qualifications, and Policies. Some of the beneficiaries of the sheltered workshops desire to get into actual employment after their vocational training. However, finding a job in the regular open market is not always easy for people with disabilities (Visier 349). Assessment is critical for those seeking employment since it evaluates the necessary skills that would work in a particular sector. However, potential employers are prohibited by the law from using disability as one of the criteria since it would deny people with special needs the employment opportunities.
Samhall is an excellent example of an organization that has a planned recruitment program for individuals with disabilities benefiting from sheltered employment. The organization recruits prioritized groups with intellectual or psychic disabilities. Hence, the organization does not include all disability groups in the recruitment process. The individuals qualified based on the criteria are hired by the group for long-term employment once they develop the necessary personal and employment skills (Skedinger and Widerstedt 2). However, the group has been criticized for using cream skimming favoring individuals with disabilities who have previous connections to the labor market (Skedinger and Widerstedt 5). However, the organization still exists and functions as a last resort employer and an incentive for those who use the company in escaping unemployment due to the disability.
Sheltered Workshops in Canada
The Program. The sheltered employment model in Canada has existed for decades in various provinces, including Ontario. The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) in the region revealed that the trends were similar to the rest of the nation. Provincial subsidies for the workshops went up by 674 percent between 1973 and 1978 (Galer 13). New government funding was one of the reasons for the improvement of the system. Galer also states that before 1960, only 25 workshops existed, which increased to nearly 150 facilities by 1978 (13). Similar growth was noted in the United States in the 1970s. The policy-makers made further changes to include both physical and intellectual disability in the program.
Laws, Rights, and Protection. Sheltered workshops have been a common practice in Canada since the period when the disability rights activists fought for improved employment opportunities. Although the system has faced some criticism, it has adequately served the needs of the relevant population. In the 1980s, the disability rights activists supported the model as long as the minimum wage requirement would apply to these workers (Galer 13). They desired greater protection for vulnerable citizens.
Training, Support, and Development Opportunities. The workshops were not created to offer permanent employment to Canadians. However, they were operated by not-for-profit organizations and financed by the provincial government to provide a temporary place for individuals with disabilities to develop job skills before transitioning into more permanent jobs. Although the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (Bill 148) makes the labour market better for the people with special needs, some improvements are required, especially on the working environment (Lieberman). Canadians support the continued existence of sheltered employment opportunities.
Assessments Criteria, Qualifications, and Policies. The model is expected to provide support for better job placement services for the sheltered employees. Therefore, they should offer a chance to train more permanent workers who would occupy better jobs (Galer 25). The Canadian model shows the need for equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Although the training period differs from one region to another, the assessment should be based on the skills and qualification and not the disability status.
Best Practice in the UAE
The sheltered model in the UAE should be guided by the UN provisions for people with disabilities. According to Article 27 of the UNCRPD, “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities” (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 19). The statute outlaws any form of discrimination to ensure that individuals with special needs enjoy equal opportunities in the society (Szmukler et al. 245). Therefore, the UAE should adopt the UN requirements as the best practice in developing the sheltered employment model.
From the international evidence, the country needs to make significant changes to improve the situation of people with disabilities in the labour market. The government should implement proper standards for sheltered employment to protect people with disabilities. Standards for employment services will ease the transition from effective vocational training and sheltered workshops to employment environments that provide adequate protection for these individuals. The UAE policy-makers should use the EU’s universal model to ensure that all work surroundings consider the needs and challenges of people with disabilities.
Lessons learnt from the Canadian case indicate the need to continue the sheltered employment model as long as people with disabilities are allowed to have a competitive working environment. Individual needs should determine the length of the vocational training. The workshops should not be used as the means for private and public organisations to get cheap labour. The UAE government should blend the sheltered workshop models with supported employment to allow better job placement for the beneficiaries (Galer 13). However, the proposed program should be inclusive and backed by the law. The Canadian model has a limitation in that the Employment Standards Act exempted the organizations from following the minimum wage requirements (Lieberman). Therefore, policy changes to accommodate a new model for the employment of individuals with disabilities in the UAE should be initiated.
Recommendations for Implementation in the UAE Based on Lessons
Admission Criteria to the Workshops. Admission is critical for PWD to benefit from the sheltered workshops and employment. Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is one of the commonly used and effective approaches that would assist such individuals to secure jobs and live independently. The system is used mostly among those with severe mental challenges to enable them to gain competitive employment in the market. The UAE can adopt the model that uses eight principles: “eligibility based on client choice, focus on competitive employment, integration of mental health and employment services, and attention to client preferences, work incentives planning, rapid job search, systematic job development, and individualized job supports” (Bond, Drake and Becker 32). The model originated in the United States, but other countries are adopting it successfully.
Assessments for Placement in a Sheltered Workshop. Eligibility of the individuals for the sheltered workshop inclusion should consider the needs of the person. Therefore, it should be on the basis of consumer choice (desire or interest) of a PWD to join the program. The assessors should avoid such considerations as “work readiness” since they leave out many willing candidates (Marshall et al. 17). In addition, the implementers should consider the training and rehabilitation needs of the person ready to join the system. Thus, employment specialists should be involved in the assessment process to include as many PWDs as possible. The services are designed to support these people and should not discriminate against any of the participants based on their ability.
Goal of the Sheltered Workshop. The goal of Individual Placement and Support is to allow competitive employment for PWDs. The participants should acquire the necessary skills to integrate them into the job market and community settings (Bond, Drake and Becker 32). The programs are created in such a way that would assist them to get permanent jobs in a socially integrated community (Marshall et al. 17). Therefore, the UAE should adopt the model in which the participants are provided with the necessary skills to get employment in the community environment. They should have the competence to work with other people once they leave the sheltered workshops and vocational training.
Transition Processes from Workshops to Employment. The workshops aim to create a transition into the actual working environment. Different countries use diverse models with some vocational models placing participants in non-competitive jobs, including agency-run business, sheltered employment among other placements. The measures of competitiveness used may include the level of job acquisition, duration of work, and productivity (Bond, Drake and Becker 32). Such arrangements are considered protective for those individuals, since they may not be necessarily helpful as they deny them a chance to earn competitive wages. However, they should transition after acquiring the necessary skills to work in the community settings.
Are PWDs Paid and how Much. Compensation for PWDs depends on the particular job, skills, and the position. Different countries offer specific payment rates for the PWDs. The UAE should use the best practice model that provides them with permanent jobs paying commensurate wages (Bond, Drake and Becker 32). The Individual Placement and Support model should be adopted in the UAE to ensure that participants get employment opportunities paying the least minimum wage (Marshall et al. 17). The employees should not be discriminated in terms of salaries and wages. They should earn an amount comparable with other employees with similar skills and competence.
Programs Funding Models. The sheltered workshops should be funded adequately to achieve their goals. The government should create a budget for the current services and set up others to ensure that they meet the needs of the PWDs. Support for funding sheltered workshops using taxpayers money emanates from a cost-benefit analysis that shows the economic gains of involving PWDs in active employment (Cimera 111). Therefore, the government should give the necessary support for the continued operation of the sheltered workshops.
Where Sheltered Workshops Fits in the Chain of PWD Life. Sheltered workshops play an important role during the stage when PWDs require vocational training to gain meaningful employment. They are meant to support employability for the PWDs since working is fundamental for their independent adult life (Gomes‐Machado et al. 33). Well-structured workshops provide a constructive occupation to these individuals and a chance to compete in the job market with their counterparts. Therefore, the decision to join the system should be made by the beneficiaries. They should show a desire and willingness to take part in the vocational training to gain the greatest benefits.
Relation, Differences between Sheltered Workshops and the Links with Sheltered Employment, Inclusive Employment, and Open Employment. Sheltered workshops are the entry point for the PWDs to meaningful employment. They relate to the kind of employment available for these individuals to provide as much support as possible. They are part of training and counseling to prepare them for the job market (Marshall et al. 17). Therefore, they have a link to sheltered, inclusive, and open employment, which determines the type of job market the individuals join once they graduate from the workshops.
Programs, Timelines, Roadmap, Training and Support. The sheltered workshops should be founded on the Individual Placement and Support model due to the diverse needs of the participants. They should be time-unlimited and incorporate personalized follow-up and support due to the different needs of the individuals (Marshall et al. 17). The programs should have proper support for training, counseling, and rehabilitation of the beneficiaries to prepare them for the challenges inherent in the labor market. The administrators should use motivated job coaches to train the participants in sheltered workshops (Cimera 41). They should include adequate support during the program and after transitioning to the workplace.
Codes of Practices, Practice Rules, Guidelines. The UAE should have more comprehensive legal guidelines for the implementation of the sheltered workshops and employment of PWDs. The current laws ensure equal opportunity in employment for people with disabilities, but they have not effectively captured the needs of the PWDs, especially regarding supported employment arrangements. For example, working with the organizations that provide the services, the government should implement a national system of accreditation for sheltered workshops based on the current laws on equality for PWDs. Where necessary, policy changes are critical when implementing reasonable accommodations and eliminating barriers to their participation.
Monitoring, Evaluation of Sheltered Workshops. Effective monitoring and evaluation standards for the sheltered programs should be implemented to ensure that they achieve their objectives. For example, the government should enact a policy for regular evaluations where data will be collected from the facilities offering the services to ensure that they meet the standards of training and support for PWDs. In some countries such as the United States and Canada, the model is opposed because of being discriminatory towards PWDs (Hoffman 151). Thus, the UAE government should implement effective measures and standards to protect the individuals from discrimination and other negative treatment of PWDs.
The UAE lacks a successful model for sheltered employment but can learn important lessons from other countries such as Canada and Sweden. Available vocational training institutions for individuals with disabilities should remain, but these people should have better chances to gain meaningful employment. The system should be created in a way that the beneficiaries have adequate time to train and develop supportive skills to later transition into the labour force. The trainees should also be paid competitive wages and assessed according to their abilities and competence. The UAE should learn and improve on the international standards to implement the best practices in vocational training.