Wednesday 22 February 2012

Going all out to attract more to social work

Nationwide effort to draw fresh graduates and those eyeing mid-career switch
By Tay Suan Chiang, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2012

BEFORE he became a social worker in 2004, Mr Lee Seng Meng thought that the job was just about doing voluntary work. But when he took a social work module during his first year at the National University of Singapore, he realised that the scope of the work was more challenging and complex than first thought.

He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in social work.

Mr Lee, 32, is now centre director of Students Care Service in Clementi and specialises in working with young people who may succumb to vices or join gangs because of family or self-esteem reasons.

'The youth are full of potential and it is a pity if they fall through the cracks,' he said.

Elsewhere, social workers - who are accredited and trained formally - work with other individuals or families who face issues such as financial, relationship or domestic violence problems.

With demand for social services increasing, there is a need to attract and retain more social workers. There are currently more than 800 registered practitioners here, with about 200 more places that need to be filled.

'The job is not easy. So we want people who are committed and who have the passion to help others,' said Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing yesterday at the launch of an inaugural nationwide campaign to promote social work as a career of choice.

The ongoing campaign, which includes print and TV advertisements, was rolled out at a tea reception - at the MCYS Building in Thomson Road - for 30 social workers and social work students.

Mr Chan cited the lack of societal recognition for the job and the emotional drain of the work as possible reasons that not many were taking up social work.

There is also a misconception that social workers, like social-work volunteers, are not paid for their work. A social worker who has just graduated can expect to earn $2,550 to $2,750. Mr Chan said the remuneration, compared to similar jobs that serve the needs of others, such as teaching, is 'competitive'.

He also reassured those present that there would be professional development and career opportunities for social workers. Accreditation - to boost standards and status - was introduced in 2009.

The campaign hopes to reach out not only to young people fresh out of school but also those thinking of a mid-career change.

'These will be people in their 30s or 40s, and they bring with them life experiences that they can contribute to the social work profession,' said Mr Chan.

One example is Ms Ruth Lim, a senior social worker at the Society for the Physically Disabled. Ms Lim, 51, a former legal secretary, changed course 20 years ago when she wanted a career that 'would touch lives'.

Her job involves counselling as well as developing and conducting life skills training for her clients. 'Each client has a different story, and being able to interact with them gives me fulfilment,' she said.

But not every case has a happy ending.

Mr Lee recalled a girl he counselled in 2005. Then 15, she was referred to the centre by the police for theft offences. Despite weekly counselling, she would still reoffend and, once, sniffed glue during a counselling session and was arrested by the police.

'She may not have turned over a new leaf but that didn't deter me from continuing with social work,' he said. 'It is important not to give up on them.'

For Nanyang Polytechnic student Vijayalakshmi Vijayaratnam, 22, two chance encounters with social workers inspired her to study social work.

She had been hospitalised twice for a neurological illness some years ago and was feeling depressed about not being able to recover. Both times, social workers came to counsel her that there was more to life than moping.

'They made an impact on me,' she said. She will graduate with a diploma in social sciences (social work) next year and will be able to work as a social work associate. She can further her training to be a social worker.

Her extended family think social work is a tough job but Ms Vijayaratnam said: 'I've got the empathy for helping others.'

The infusion of new blood will come as a relief for groups that have had to make do with fewer social workers or hold back schemes because of the manpower crunch.
Said Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre's executive director Vincent Ng: 'The campaign is a good start as it helps to educate the public on what social workers do.'

MCYS will also be reaching out to youth through Facebook and a series of outreach programmes, including activities, road-shows, publicity and marketing efforts in informing them about the many facets of social work, and in the process, encourage them to consider social work as a profession.

Individuals interested to find out more information about becoming a social worker can visit the micro-site at (

No comments:

Post a Comment