Eldercare sector rolls out plans to attract Singaporeans

SINGAPORE - Novel programmes have sprung up to attract more people, including housewives and retirees, to Singapore's growing eldercare industry. The plan is to get them to join first, then to train them.

The Social Service Training Institute, the National Council of Social Service's training arm, introduced a diploma course two months ago that gives newcomers to the industry a way in.

Similarly, NTUC Eldercare, one of the largest eldercare service providers here, started a pilot programme last year to encourage locals to do part-time work as therapists, befrienders or carers.

The new initiatives, allowing Singaporeans with no experience to join the sector, will help fill some of the 10,000 eldercare positions that the country is expected to need in the next seven years. There were about 5,600 workers in the sector as of last year.

An NTUC Eldercare spokesman said one of the main challenges in getting locals to join the sector is their "lack of confidence and understanding of the job".

"So we make the training and learning more interactive and easy to understand," she said of its Place-and-Train project.

For instance, those in the programme are familiarised with the process of ageing through role play. To simulate the loss of sensation in the fingers, for example, the workers are made to wear gloves while doing manual tasks.

Such hands-on training made the experience less intimidating for Ms Sandy Gng, a housewife for more than 20 years.

"I felt so lost when I stepped into the classroom, wondering if I ought to go back home," said the 49-year-old, who also enjoys the programme's flexible hours, which allow her to go home and cook for her children.

The programme, which has already trained around 80 Singaporeans, will try to double its intake to at least 160 this year.

The Ministry of Health said it is working to accredit the NTUC Eldercare course - which takes in mainly housewives, retirees and back-to-work mothers in their 40s - with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. This will allow locals to enjoy training subsidies.

The Social Service Training Institute's programme allows people to work in an eldercare agency, such as Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities and Lions Befrienders Service Association, while they study for a diploma.

A first batch of nine people have been placed in these agencies, allowing them to apply skills such as counselling or helping the elderly with disabilities or mental health issues.

"Being able to study and practise by working at the same time enables me to enter this sector faster," said Ms Ong Su Fern, 33, who made the switch after being an engineer with the air force for the last 10 years.

She now works at Thye Hua Kwan Chong Pang Social Service Hub and does home visits for the elderly.

Besides attracting more locals, there have been moves to encourage companies to draw and retain foreign workers in the industry.

The Manpower Ministry recently announced plans that kick in next month allowing firms in the service sector, of which eldercare services fall under, to hire skilled foreign workers for longer periods, and to pay lower levies for them.

The ministry told The Straits Times that it is also reviewing employment policies for the foreign workers and more details will be shared later.


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