MORE workers in the social service sector are heading back to the classroom to sharpen their skills, driven by the growing complexity of social issues and the availability of subsidies.
The Social Service Institute (SSI), the main training ground for social workers and other social service staff, saw enrolment for its four diploma and degree programmes doubling from 90 last year to 179 this year.
SIM University also saw 399 people enrolled in its social work degree programme this year, up from 267 two years ago.
Many of those working in the industry do so without much specialised training at first but as needs become more complex, they see the need to hone their skills, said experts.
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who was formerly minister of state for social and family development, said recently that with the national demographic shifting to include more blended and reconstructed families, social needs will grow in size and complexity.
Ms Julia Lee, director of the social work department at Touch Community Services, said: "Nowadays, issues are multi-faceted and social workers are not really trained in specialised areas such as cyber addiction, so there's a need to refresh their skills even if they have been in the sector for a while."
Mr Alvin Koh, 27, senior community partnership assistant at Tampines Family Service Centre, said a diploma in social service allowed him to take on more responsibilities. He used to handle only referral inquiries and run programmes, but now he can assist counsellors in handling cases. He also got a $300 pay rise. "We get to discuss emerging social trends such as whether foreign workers are entitled to subsidies so that we will be more equipped to tackle such cases next time," he said.
Industry players say the increase in interest in these courses is also in part fuelled by more individuals switching to the social work field mid-career.
It is hoped such individuals will help to build up the sector, which requires about 150 more social workers every year to meet the needs of the growing and greying population here. Over the last decade, the number of staff in the sector has tripled.
More people are now inclined to hit the books also because of generous subsidies, the National Council of Social Service said. Previously, those who made the switch from other industries had to bear the full cost, but since last year, they have been able to tap Workforce Development Agency funding to defray up to 90 per cent of course fees.
Mr Melvin Yeo, 33, a former military expert from the Ministry of Defence, said it was difficult to make the change to become a social service worker.
"I have two young sons to take care of but burning the midnight oil is worthwhile because this job allows me to tap my strengths in relating with people to help them," said Mr Yeo, who is working and pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.