MSF to hire more staff to tackle social service labour crunch

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will this year hire more social service professionals than it needs in order to help out welfare groups run by volunteers.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced this at the opening of a new Social Services Institute in Somerset on Friday morning, saying that the move would enable staff to be posted to volunteer welfare organisations (VWOs).

"Some VWOs face difficulty recruiting fast enough to start up or expand key MSF-funded programmes," said the finance minister, who was accompanied by Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing at the launch. "This two-way flow will I am sure enhance career development and strengthen the profession."

Noting also in his speech at the event that salaries in the social services sector "lag that of their peers in other sectors", Tharman said the sector must pay competitively.

He cited efforts on the part of the MSF and the National Council of Social Service to benchmark salaries of key professions in the sector that started last year, adjusting their funding accordingly to keep pace with them.

In the most recent round of salary adjustments done in 2012, about 85 per cent of VWOs receiving support from the government raised their staff salaries by eight per cent, as a median figure, he said.

NCSS will also offer human resource consultation services for organisations that may need assistance in their benefit systems and in determining annual increments for their staff, he added.

"This is a good development for our social service professionals," said Tharman. "We must keep up this practice of paying staff competitively."

Given that all social workers need a degree to enter the sector, either by the traditional university route or by mid-career conversion programmes, Tharman called on more diploma holders to join the sector and work alongside qualified workers to begin with.

"We must groom a larger pool of committed, qualified and skilled social service professionals," said Tharman. "We must work together to find innovative solutions to overcome these manpower challenges in a labour market with many competing careers. It's a tight labour market, it will remain a tight labour market, with many competing careers for young Singaporeans."

Apart from offering training, the newly-opened Social Services Institute on the fourth floor of Triple One Somerset has a resource library as well a career centre, which aims to reach out to at least 10,000 job seekers annually and match at least 1,900 new entrants to the sector within the coming three years. The government will also be channelling some $28 million toward this effort.

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