Wednesday 20 May 2015

Social work: One of the hottest mid-career options in town

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 19 May 2015

MORE and more people are looking to make a mid-career switch to social work. Of those applying to switch this year, only one in 17 will be able to do so.

A lack of relevant experience or qualifications is no longer a barrier either, while better pay and career prospects in the social service sector are a firm draw.

This year, 669 people are fighting for 40 places in the professional conversion programme for social workers, the main scheme for mid-career entrants. Last year, more than 400 applied.

Former human resource manager Carol Chew, 28, who graduated from the course recently and now screens families for financial aid at a family service centre, said: "People increasingly want a job that not only grows you professionally, but also touches lives. The recent announcements to raise pay and career progression also make social work more attractive."

Mr Sim Gim Guan, who heads the National Council of Social Service, agreed: "We believe that better remuneration and advancement opportunities, coupled with greater awareness of what the sector can offer, have prompted the interest in social service jobs."

Low pay and the lack of a structured career pathway had resulted in a high attrition rate in the past. Nonetheless, in the last decade, the number of workers in the sector has tripled to 16,000.

Two months ago, the Ministry of Social and Family Development announced that social workers and other social service professionals such as psychologists and therapists can expect a pay rise of 3 to 19 per cent this year.

Under new salary guidelines, the recommended pay for a social worker fresh out of university is $3,040 - closer to the $3,200 median pay for all new graduates last year. In 2012, the recommended salary was $2,760.

A subsidised place-and-train scheme also makes the transition easier.

Ms Rachel Loh, 28, who was a youth policy officer at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and is pursuing a graduate diploma in social work, said: "We get to start work in the industry immediately and studying and working concurrently means we can apply what we have learnt in school the night before in our new workplaces the next day."

For similar reasons, interest in the sector is also growing among younger people. Enrolment in SIM University's undergraduate social work programme doubled in the last three years to 445 students. About 226 people have applied for social service scholarships so far, up from 160 last year.

The sector has an annual shortfall of around 130 social workers.

Mr Sim said: "The heightened interest... is good news at a time when the social needs and demand for social service manpower are increasing."

Mr Alvin Koh, 27, who will graduate with an advanced diploma this year, said: "We can't outsource social work so the volume of people coming in will help plug service gaps which we are already seeing in the sector."

That satisfying job switch of becoming a social worker
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 19 May 2015

As a former military expert, the ground security work that Mr Melvin Yeo used to do often piqued the curiosity of his family and friends.

But he found the office job routine at the Ministry of Defence stultifying after seven years and decided to exchange it for another that involved knocking on doors.

"I go door-to-door in the neighbourhood to find out if residents need help and arrange to get that help for them," said the 34-year-old who is a social work associate with Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre now.

He is working and pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work now so that he can eventually become a full-fledged social worker.

His job responsibilities now involve carrying out home visits during which he hands out food rations. He also refers the vulnerable to social workers as well as maintain the centre's client database.

"Even though my previous experience is not immediately relevant to my current scope of work, mid-career entrants like me bring with us the people skills and maturity to the job that distinguish us from fresh graduates," said Mr Yeo.

With the job switch, he took a $1,000 pay cut and juggles work and attending night classes at SIM university.

That is on top of enduring sleepless nights to help care for his two young sons, one of who is 10-month old.

"Despite the sacrifices, the switch has been worth it because I see myself here for the long-haul," he said.

"When you see your work benefiting others, it makes you want to get out of bed everyday, raring to go."

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