Central hiring of social workers mooted

SINGAPORE - A centralised hiring system could help smaller voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) recruit and keep social service professionals, amid a labour crunch.

This idea was raised by Acting Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Chan Chun Sing on Thursday, as he noted the challenges faced by smaller VWOs in employing quality staff and sending them for upgrading courses.

He did not elaborate on how or when such a system might be set up, but the idea was welcomed by several VWOs.

"If we can find new, interesting and creative (employment) models... perhaps we can have a breakthrough on how we can strengthen the way we recruit our people and deploy them," Mr Chan said at the National Council of Social Service's (NCSS) members' conference at Concorde Hotel.

Smaller VWOs also have less room for career growth than bigger ones, and may also find it harder to pay competitive wages.

But under a centralised system, social service professionals would get the same pay and benefits, regardless of which organisation they go to, and they could be sent to VWOs that need staff.

Mr Chan did not specify if and when the model would be set up, or who would be spearheading it.

But several VWOs, welcoming the idea, suggested that the NCSS could take the lead, since it is the umbrella body for about 400 charity groups in Singapore.

Club Rainbow executive director R. Rajakanth, whose organisation helps children and young people suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, said such a system can "even sieve through those who join to ensure they are correct for them".

Non-profit youth organisation Heartware Network founder Raymond Huang, 47, added: "This will be useful in terms of training, as staff can move to the bigger VWOs for career development."

According to MSF, Singapore has 1,400 registered social workers and social service practitioners, but needs an additional 150 social workers every year.

Mr Chan also suggested developing a core group of social service professionals who can mentor and train others.

NCSS said it would play a bigger role as the "voice" of its members and would scale up fund-raising efforts.

Speaking to some 200 VWOs at the conference, the council's chief executive Ang Bee Lian said: "We will harness your inputs to influence the Government's budget planning and priorities."

Managing editor of the English and Malay Newspapers Division at Singapore Press Holdings, Mr Han Fook Kwang, also gave a keynote lecture at the event.

He stressed the importance of the social service sector, pointing out that it does not get enough recognition.

He said: "If we don't get the people sector right, we won't get our politics or our economy right... But we do not have the same deep discussion on social issues and on the people sector."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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