‘Don’t give society a problem they can’t solve, MCYS’

Belmont Lay
The Flipside

Pay social workers more instead of paying for ads to promote social work, says our blogger. (Photo courtesy of Belmont Lay)

In a new column called "The FlipSide", local blogger Belmont Lay  lets loose on local politics, culture and society in his weekly musings.  To be taken with a pinch of salt and with parental permission advised.  In this post, he reflects on an advertisement to encourage people to become professional social workers.

In case you haven't heard, some Singaporeans got very angry again recently.

This time, their angst stems from an advertisement by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS). Some members of the public-at-large found the ad distasteful.

The ad in question supposedly shows a pair of amputees standing in front of a crouching social worker who is encouraging them to play with her balls, with the word "Hopeless" printed boldly across it.

Look, I'm pretty sure I didn't get the description of the advertisement exactly right, but it doesn't matter.

What I am trying to tell you is this: if you're feeling mad about the advertisement, you're feeling mad for the wrong reasons.

You should feel mad because you must realise by now that this ongoing campaign to promote social work as a worthy career choice is in fact a good example of how to waste money.

Why should so much be spent on buying media space and paying advertising agencies to create advertisements that only serve to give the public a cock-eyed view of the social work profession?

Why not take those millions of dollars set aside to make fancy pants campaigns and pump it directly back into the social work profession instead?

And where does the money to fund this massive ongoing print and television advertisement campaign come from in the first place?

If it's from the ministry, I'm pretty sure it must be taxpayers' money to begin with.

Go to the root of the issue

Last, but not least, what is stopping the MCYS from using the most direct approach to attract talent to the social work profession?

You see, we always harp back to the fact that Singapore is a pragmatic society with straightforward logic governing it.

If we want to attract top leaders to the political arena, what does our country do?

Simple. We pay people who do end up in parliament a lot of money and justify it by saying that if we don't, Singapore will be ruined and we will all die in agony.

So, if this superior logic holds true, shouldn't we just tangibly increase the salaries of social workers by a quantum to make the profession more attractive?

Shouldn't we just take the money that goes into making glossy campaigns and put it into the pockets of social workers since what they do is genuinely non-substitutable?

As far as I'm concerned, if the government requires capable and talented people to join them, it shouldn't go about putting up advertisements with cock-and-bull slogans to attract people to the job.

They should just wave a big paycheck as there are no shortages of capable people with all the right qualifications.

Because, for the last time, social work, like any other kinds of work, is work.

People do work not because it is fun. People get on with it because they have to.

And like any other kind of work in Singapore, the higher the salary, the better the vocation looks in the eyes of beholders.

Tell me why do lawyers look so sexy?

Why are doctors so attractive?

Why must bankers always appear so virile?

Because they've got personality?


And this is just me jesting.

What's enough?

Because, seriously, by increasing the pay, more people will be attracted to join a vocation, and the more professional it becomes, which leads to greater competitiveness, and eventually the better the quality of the candidates who show up for job interviews.

And then I hear you asking: must it always be about using the vulgar aspect of money to compensate for the shortfall in practitioners?

Well, look how Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing, readily admits that the remuneration of $2,550 to $2,750 for fresh graduates who become social workers is "competitive" compared to teaching, for example.

He already wants to convince you using the money factor that it pays enough.

However, at the same time, there is a problem with this frame of reference.

And herein lies the point of today's missive: to raise the profile of any profession, it is important to not look directly across to another somewhat similar vocation. In this case, that would be teaching.

It is important to always look upwards.

And if the ministry seriously thinks that capable social workers, like capable political leaders, are a force for good for our society, they should just put the money where their mouth is.

Make a six-month year-end bonus mandatory, and trust me, there won't be a shortage of candidates.

Or else, encouraging society to deal with a problem that only the ministry has the resources to solve but then not doing so practically as they hand out the dough to media and advertising agencies will only make society angrier some times.

Belmont Lay is one of the editors for New Nation. Being a writer doesn't even pay well, but he is doing it anyway.