Home > Singapore Scene, social workers we need you > Social Workers, We need you – MCYS say one

Social Workers, We need you – MCYS say one

MG Chan in his favourite pose

MG Chan says that attracting more social workers remains MCYS’ priority. You can watch the video clip here – CNA – more social workers needed. The recognition of this need is a good thing.

I will begin by summarising what was said.

  1. There are 761 registered social workers inSingapore. Go figure what is the percentage compared with the population ofSingapore.
  2. Mohd Fareez, 30 year old senior social worker said that there is difficulty retaining staff – they usually leave after a few years.
  3. MCYS estimates a need for 60 social workers every year for the next five years.
  4. No idea why they quoted MG Chan saying this: “We will put in place initiatives to encourage more structured supervision and mentoring programmes to facilitate the transmission of social work values and skills from one generation to the next” I am more interested to hear how he plans to attract more social workers rather than the continuation of the work.
  5. Dr Kalyani Mehta, president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers (SASW) said that parental misgivings of the job being underpaid and overworked played a part. However, with international recognition of the work, the ghost of social worker past should be laid to rest.

There are several, no-brainer reasons why there is a lack in any profession – not just social work.

  1. The salary. Our dear leaders talk so much about the dignity of a decent pay to attract talents to the cabinet. In the case of allied health professionals, the contrast in salaries can be especially stark, given the earning potentials of doctors. For a social worker, the starting pay is about $2500. (Source: http://www.ncss.org.sg/social_service_jobs/remuneration.asp.)
  1. Advancement and promotion opportunities.
  1. The job scope
  1. Recognition by society

Let’s face it – if you are in it for the money, social work will not make you millionaires. However, there is a need to adequately compensate social workers. The nature of their job demands a huge emotional output that should be recognized in monetary terms.

To understand the nature of the job more, and their advancement opportunities, check the SASW website out. How many people can handle this sort of work day in day out? While Dr Kalyani tries to calm the parents and claims that the thinking of social worker as being overworked and underpaid is a thing of the past, the fact is there are only 761 registered social workers inSingapore. In a society that measures success by earnings, no matter what the good doctor says about international recognition, it ain’t gonna happen in Singapore – at least not yet.

I don’t know how MCYS can estimate a need of 60 more social workers a year for the next five years. All I know is that there have been more unnatural deaths in the last month than murders in an entire year in times past. I have never heard of more poor people, dysfunctional families and families in urgent financial need than currently.Singaporeis socially unwell, and we are in need of social workers.

MG Chan – it’s all and well to say MCYS need to attract and may I add, retain, social workers. The question is how?

I suggest that instead of dismissing the stereotype of the job, it is more important to acknowledge that social work is tough and not lucrative. Critically, we need to understand that more than any other professional, the social worker needs time out to regain emotional balance. They also need to be recognized as being in a noble profession. My unprofessional suggestion is therefore to:

  1. Ensure adequate to generous remuneration – comparable to MOE salaries for teachers. MOE GEO1 salary. It may also be a good idea to offer bursaries and scholarships for undergraduates, the way MOE does.
  2. Offer job rotation. The emotional burden is difficult to bear if one counsels people with problems day in day out. A change in job scope every now and then may take the brunt out. However, I am not a professional, so it is still up to the experts to decide the best way emotional stress can be alleviated.
  3. Include some form of paid retreat – non-work based, or short vacation, as part of staff benefits.
  4. After a fixed no of years of work – say 6 years, allow staff to go on sabbatical. This can take the form of further training. The idea is to get away from the routine of their work, and to chill and to retrain.
  5. Encourage society to value social workers through some form of recognition.

In a university entrance interview, friends of my daughter answered the interviewers thus:

Why do you want to be a lawyer?  – Ans. I heard lawyers make lots of money.

Why do you want to a doctor? –  Ans. My parents want me to be a doctor.

Both got accepted. Salary and parental influence mattered a lot to the candidate. What is scary to me is that the interviewers accepted such answers without as much as a blink of the eye.

If we want people to take up “noble” positions, we need to change the way we value people. And it begins from the top.

  1. This is Anfield
    July 22, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Your suggestions, however well meaning, will not be practical in Singapore. You forget that we are now in a KPI driven environment, operating under imported management philosophies such as Balanced Scorecard, People Developer, Singapore Quality Award, ISO 10000-and-don’t-know-what, and the latest garbage from the West, Design Thinking.

    So tell me, in all honesty, how can a people-oriented profession thrive under such an environment??

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      July 22, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Well – i never expect any suggestions to be accepted – just put it down to wishful thinking. I hope that at least people in this people-oriented profession know there are some who do think about them. Thanks for dropping by Anfield.

  2. Jason Widjaja
    July 25, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Just thinking out loud both as a friend of a number of social workers – it saddens me to think of these talented people who had options but yet chose this path with both eyes open and are now faced with a wholly undeserved mix of social stigma and financial challenges.

    I guess I should also chime in as a student of some of these imported management philosophies – I am a Singaporean currently working overseas – many of them come with a recognition that employees are an asset to be valued, developed and retained, not a sugar cane stem that needs to be crushed in order to squeeze out the value.

    This next comment might be flammable material, but surely there must be a business case to measure the social and economic cost of losing these valuable social workers? It seems blatantly obvious that not having and supporting this group of people is going to hurt society.

  3. C
    August 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Anfield: FYI the social work sector is not as ambigious or confusing as you think it is. We do have KPIs, some organisations achieved people developers award and ISO standards. We do have balance scorecards too, just not in the same way perhaps in a profit making organisation where everything is about dollars and cents. It is not a profession for nothing my friend.

    Sophia: thanks for this post. It is quite encouraging, as you mentioned, to be considered and thought about in a blog. I have some thoughts about your suggestions:
    1) Adequate pay: recent salary increases are encouraging. More funding to be given to the social service sector is the way to go. So I agree with you – peng our salary against the teachers and give more funding specifically towards human resource management. It has increased quite a few times in the last 3 to 4 years I must say. More can be done to peng it to civil service sector but thats also tricky, as social service organisations are technically not part of the civil service sector so it is going to be hard to reinforce pay increment this way. On some occasions, it is the organisations who are unwilling to raise the salary of the social workers (more cost incurred, what about other professionals like psychologists, counsellors..yadayada).

    2) Paid retreat: a scheme is in place. http://www.ncss.org.sg/vwocorner/ppsw_faq.htm Expanding the programme would be helpful.

    3) Encouraging recognition of social workers – I applause Vivian Balakhrisnan for having done a lot to help increase this, and also MG Chan for continuing to do so. There are pay increments, accreditation, OSWA (outstanding social workers award) that have been in place (in collaboration with the association) to increase the recognition.The association (SASW) (IMHO) can do a lot more to engage their own social workers and conduct public education though.

    On the other hand, it is also critical to up the standard of the social work profession in Singapore. In other countries, where social workers are licensed, you need a Masters degree before you can practice as a social worker! Here, the standard has been rather low. So we could also see a lot more $$ pump into the social work education to increase the standards in Singapore.

    Thanks once again for bringing up this issue.

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