Grooming social service leaders

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

Former speech therapist Vasudavan Govindasamy felt fulfilled working with deaf children at a charity but left after five years to join a public hospital in 2001 to stretch himself professionally.

But he is now rejoining the social service sector.

"They recognise gaps such as inadequate grooming and are addressing them in a big way so that gave me reason to reconsider rejoining," said Mr Govindasamy, 47, who will join voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) Thye Hua Kwan as a director next year. He is one of 13 people who signed up for Sun Ray, the centralised manpower recruitment scheme administered by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), which aims to groom at least 200 social service leaders over the next five years.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said yesterday as details of the scheme to draw and retain manpower in the labour-tight social service sector were released: "It is a significant development in the social service sector. People development lies at the heart of our challenges."

Mr Chan, who spoke about the scheme in Parliament earlier this year, said he had waited for its launch since he took office three years ago. The aim is to groom leaders in a sector plagued by resignations due to low pay and the lack of a structured career pathway.

Under Sun Ray, social service leaders will be rotated to another agency after two to five years, with their salaries, training and career development overseen and determined by NCSS. They will be put on the same pay scale, depending on experience and expertise, regardless of their organisation.

Social issues are also becoming more complex so there is a need for leaders to be rotated to gain exposure to various areas of social work, instead of spending years in a single agency, said NCSS. Those on the scheme, be they existing workers, returnees or mid-career entrants, can opt for the organisational leadership track to be groomed for senior positions such as executive directors. Others can go for the professional leadership route to be master social workers, for example.

So far, 14 VWOs have signed up. The sector has 15,000 people, of whom 1,400 are registered social workers and social service practitioners. It looks to grow as the population ages and social safety nets are strengthened, but faces manpower constraints due to competition in and outside the sector, Mr Chan said.

While the centralised scheme can help charities recruit and retain talent, some have wondered if they will lose autonomy. But Mr Chan said the VWOs will continue to directly employ most of their staff. "We have no plans to nationalise social service employment. There is no such need and it is not healthy either."

This article was first published on Nov 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.