To address the perpetual manpower crunch in the social work sector, and the need for social workers to consistently upgrade themselves, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing has mooted the idea of a “centralised recruitment of social workers[,] in the same way that teachers are hired” (TODAY, “Centralised Recruitment Process for Social Workers?”, Aug. 16, by Miss Kok Xing Hui). This would not only allow the employees to sharpen their competency over the years, but also provide suitable matches with the voluntary welfare organisations. The idea is to pool the community of social workers and social service practitioners within an institution first, before empowering them with the right resources and manpower.
In the last year, two ministers have weighed in to call for remuneration in the industry to be made more competitive. I made the same point (here). “Some might say that social workers should not be motivated by the amounts of money they receive, and should therefore not make comparisons with their contemporaries within the industry, or with their counterparts from other sectors … Be that as it may, the heads of these organisations and service centres should allow for a degree of pragmatism as well. It would be detrimental if present remuneration is perceived as a deterrent, thereby preventing an inflow of capable, intelligent, young social workers”.
The Singapore Association of Social Workers concurred (here). They also noted that “[m]any social service agencies have a rather flat hierarchy, and career mobility tends to be restricted”.
VWOs and agencies are likely to appeal to different individuals, and it is possible that the more popular ones would have a steadier supply of personnel. The status quo is problematic, because some agencies might find it more challenging to recruit and retain talent. Can the process be made more efficient? The pairing of social workers and organisations would still not be perfect under a new system, but it could – at the very least – reduce disparities. Aspects like language proficiency, race, and ethnicity can be factored in during the matching processes.
Yet, talk will remain as talk. What now?
A centralised recruitment process could therefore go in some way to raise salaries, promote routes for career advancement, and render manpower distribution more productive. Perhaps we could first look to the existing Social Service Institute, which fulfils a broad range of social service functions. If our policy-makers are convinced that changes are imperative, then it must solicit views from potential practitioners (and not merely the VWOs), conduct representative conversations, and actually get going.