Slew of initiatives to attract, retain talent in social service sector

Slew of initiatives to attract, retain talent in social service sector
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Published: 4:00 AM, April 13, 2017
Updated: 12:56 PM, April 17, 2017

SINGAPORE — Finding the right staff is always a challenge for social service organisations, as they are often viewed as financially constrained and offering lower pay than the commercial sector, said Dr Victor Tay, president of the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN).

The sector also requires skill sets that tend to be quite niche, such as requiring someone with a “missionary” zeal, and have a good understanding of the work the social service organisations do. The sector must also grapple with a high attrition rate, partly due to burn-out among staff and the less competitive pay, he noted.

With such challenges faced by social services organisations, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) yesterday announced a slew of new initiatives to attract and retain talent in a sector that is facing a labour crunch.

As demand for social services continue to grow, the sector needs to find about 3,000 workers in the next two years. It took the sector 10 years to grow its workforce by more than 50 per cent, to its current strength of more than 13,000.

The new NCSS initiatives include debunking misconceptions about the sector — such as it hires only social workers, when there are other specialised, corporate and supporting positions as well — via a public education campaign. Other measures include helping social service sector personnel and volunteers improve their skills through courses and technology-enabled programmes, and partnering social service organisations with consultancy firms to improve practices in the sector.

Speaking at the official opening of the Social Service Institute (SSI) at Central Plaza in Tiong Bahru, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin pointed to the urgent need to make the social service sector more attractive to newcomers to the industry, or those looking to switch careers. The institute comes under the NCSS.

“(The) demand for social services will continue to grow, and the sector’s workforce must keep up and ideally reach about 16,000 by 2019. That is equivalent to about 1,500 people joining each year,” he said. Mr Tan added that more needs to be done to encourage social service organisations to provide competitive salaries.

To further develop talent, SSI is offering nearly 700 courses to help social sector leaders, professionals and volunteers to deepen and refresh their skill sets through training programmes, such as online programmes.

NCSS deputy CEO and group director of human capital and development group, Mr Fermin Diez, acknowledged that some caregivers might have difficulty in accessing training programmes.

“It’s hard to bring caregivers to classrooms ... but this (online learning) allows us to go to them ... We can help teach them things like brushing the teeth (of someone who can’t help themselves) via videos online,” he said.

NCSS has also partnered with consultancy firms, such as Aon Hewitt, Ernst & Young and Willis Tower Watson, to provide customised solutions for social service organisations to better attract, motivate and retain their employees. These range from recruitment, compensation and benefits, performance management and career planning. Called the People Practice Consultancy (PPC), some 100 social service organisations have signed up for the three-year-initiative, which started in 2016.

Ms Tan Sze Wee, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said the PPC had helped the centre get a better sense of the workplace issues. The not-for-profit centre helps people with special needs.

She said: “We thought that we had covered our compensation (and) salaries well. That also came up as one of the foremost concerns that staff raised, and that was surprising as we thought we were doing well.”

Rainbow Centre is now looking at how to improve staff well-being and provide more work life balance, for instance, Ms Tan added.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said NCSS also partnered with consultancy firms such as Ernest & Young. It has clarified that the correct name should be Ernst & Young.