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Singapore Government

Opening address by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin at the official opening of the Social Service Institute at Central Plaza

Opening address by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin at the official opening of the Social Service Institute at Central Plaza

Mr Hsieh Fu Hua
Mr Sim Gim Guan
A very good morning. 

Social Service Professionals the Core of the Sector

1 I am very happy to be here to celebrate the opening of the new premises of the Social Service Institute. 

2 In the social sector, we have often said that it is really the people who form the core of our sector’s work. The human touch, interactions, partnerships, and relationships are fundamental in making our sector work. We must never lose this human touch. We must actively engage, build trust, empathise and work alongside those in need. It requires people with not just the passion, which no doubt is important, but we also need the skills to approach the range of issues at hand, so that good intentions can translate into effective help. Even if we have the best of policies or programme designs, as we all know, it is ultimately the people on the ground who has to deliver the last mile. They reach out, deliver the support, and ensure that clients’ needs are being met. 

3 Our social service professionals therefore really are the backbone of the sector.  And, the Social Service Institute, or SSI in short, plays an extremely important role in their professional development.

Enabling Sector Professionals to Deal with Challenges

4 The operating environment in which we work in is continuously evolving. We face disruptions due to the fourth industrial revolution, and can feel the impact on the economy. And as we know, there are many demographic changes, such as an ageing population, changing family structures with smaller families and fewer births etc. It is thus not surprising that the people we need to reach out to are not quite the same as in the past, and will continue to evolve over time. 

5 As a sector, we must adapt to these changes. As we bring in more people into the sector to support our work, we need to equip them for their role, help them to become more skilled over time, and empower them to be able to lead teams and work across boundaries to respond to evolving needs. Working across boundaries, collaborating, are recurring themes I often emphasise when I meet people in the social sector. 

Three Key Broad Strategies

6 Let me highlight three key strategies to ensure our social sector’s manpower is ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

Attracting More People to Join the Sector and Retaining Them

7 First, we have to make our sector more attractive to those joining the sector and those considering switching their careers. 

8 Today, we have about 13,000 people working in the social sector. This is a more than 50% increase from the number ten years ago, which stood at about 8,400. Demand for social services will continue to grow, and the sector’s workforce must keep up and ideally reach about, we think, 16,000 by 2019. That is equivalent to about 1,500 people joining each year. However, in order to encourage more people to join the sector, we must first correct the misperception that the sector comprises of only volunteers, or that only those with a social work degree should apply. This is far from reality. 

9 Social workers today comprise less than 10% of the sector’s workforce. Other than social workers, social service professionals such as therapists, psychologists, and counsellors work alongside one another to support our beneficiaries. The sector also comprises practitioners in more supportive roles such as social service assistants, therapy aides and general workers. A large number, about one third of the workforce, are also in generalist roles and corporate functions, supporting the services provided by the many organisations in the sector. These include Centre Managers and Programme Heads, Human Resource, Communications, Fundraising, Information Technology, and other general Administration roles. NCSS will be intensifying efforts to correct these misperceptions and create more awareness of the diverse range of career opportunities available.

10 While it is not the only consideration for those entering and working in the sector, competitive salaries is also something we must address.  We keep a close watch on sector salaries and provide guidance to employer organisations to ensure it keeps pace with wage movements, especially in other sectors. In fact, in salary guidelines issued this year, we had recommended an average increment of 3.5% for social service professionals based on their performance. I understand that NCSS will be conducting workshops to guide social service organisations on how to implement these performance based increments. I would like to encourage more organisations to adopt these guidelines. 

11 Apart from this, we also work with social service organisations to strengthen HR practices. For example, NCSS has selected consultants to work with 100 organisations to build human resource competencies through the People Practice Consultancy initiative. 

Investing In Education and Training to Deepen Skills

12 Second, we must invest in education and training to deepen the skills we have and need. One key initiative that my ministry and NCSS is working on is to chart the career progression pathways of the different professionals, and identify the skills and competencies required at the different career stages. This is being done through the Skills Framework for Social Service. This framework will benefit not only those who are in the sector, but also those considering starting a career in social service, so that they can see how their career may evolve. The first edition of the Skills Framework will be ready by the middle of next year.

13 Apart from this, we are continuously working with our partners to support the professional development and career prospects of our professionals. These include working with local universities, as well as more centrally developing and deploying professionals such as therapists and psychologists through specialised hubs. 

Building A Strong Community

14 Third, we should build a strong community and nurture a sense of collaboration, such that we see ourselves as one big family. As with all families, issues will arise, but we must learn to work on them together. A lot of this can be done by spending informal time with each other. This is how trust is built. It is not something that can be mandated. It requires us to look beyond our own boundaries and I think many of us are beginning to realise this need.

15 We have many like-minded, passionate individuals in the sector. Social service organisations and professionals often have to work together to better serve the needs of beneficiaries, especially those with more complex needs. As organisations, government agencies included, we are organised functionally. But the problems that people face, cut across functions, and we must look at how we can have wrap around services and be more helpful at the VWO and government agency level.  Within and across organisations, we can and must build stronger working relationships.  

16 These partnerships also extend beyond social service organisations. They include government agencies, and we must also reach out to others working on the ground, such as grassroots. In fact, I am currently working with PA to explore how we can work more closely with grassroots who regularly interface with people who require help. If we do not leverage on the strengths of these agencies, we may find ourselves with insufficient bandwidth or ability to deal with the range of issues. 

17 Partnerships enable us to do more, certainly enables us to move upstream, improve the last mile service delivery, and tackle issues at the local community level.  In a sector with tight manpower, partnerships enable us to better mobilise resources and work together in a more holistic manner.  

Opening of SSI at Central Plaza

18 The SSI plays a central role in all these manpower development efforts and the development of learning communities. And, I am heartened by the progress made since it attained its status as a Continuing Education and Training centre in 2013.

19 As we all know, starting out at TripleOne Somerset, the SSI has within a short span of three years, updated close to 250 courses, put in competency-based assessments and incorporated new pedagogical approaches. Today, there are close to 700 courses available for social sector leaders, professionals and volunteers. Your inputs continue to be important to shape these courses so that they will be relevant for you and can help you have the effect you desire to create in the community.

20 SSI at TripleOne Somerset has also been the gathering point for many sector professionals, who come together to participate in Communities of Practices. I have attended some of these and was encouraged to see rich dialogues taking place. Many of you also took part in seminars and conferences where local and overseas experts imparted their knowledge. The most important outcome for me is the collaborations taking place in these settings. 

21 The career centre housed within SSI matches job seekers with suitable employers. Over the past three years, about 760 fresh and mid-career entrants have been emplaced into various organisations via job matching and professional conversion programmes. The SSI has also invested significantly in leadership development. They have launched a suite of Leadership Milestone Programmes, targeting leaders at various levels and even made available courses for VWO board members. The Sun Ray scheme is an example of a scheme administered by SSI to centrally groom social service professionals with leadership potential.

22 I am positive that with the move to this new location at Central Plaza, there will be even more opportunities for innovation in the continuing education and training of our sector’s workforce. In fact, SSI has shared with me that they have already started on their newest project, Education Innovation 2020, which seeks to introduce new ways of learning. For example, they will be embarking on the Blended Learning journey. This essentially means that apart from traditional learning methods, we also leverage technology to enrich the learning experience. This will include equipping classrooms with smart-technology facilities and adopting innovative teaching pedagogies in particularly and very importantly the online platform. What we need to find out is how best to structure our learning and I think what is being done in the classroom should have a focus on the application of knowledge. It is really exciting, as we are not even close to fully leveraging the potential which technology can afford us. Not just within our sector but nation-wide. There is much we can do as a smart nation whether enabling the downloading of materials through mobile devices, gamification etc.

23 And your input is important. You own SSI as well and it will work if you make it work. Many of you have valuable expertise and experience in your fields. You can contribute to the sector by working with SSI in many ways especially to jointly develop courses, pilot prototypes or new learning methods. 

24 The people working in our sector are at the heart of ensuring that we can effectively help disadvantaged Singaporeans. By being innovative, bold and willing to change, I hope that we can grasp opportunities to deepen our skills, to grow to better serve those in need. And I want to say openly that while we extol on the need to be innovative, we as leaders need to create that climate and environment to make it happen. This requires us taking risks and making mistakes in the process. It is all about managing risks. And certainly, I, and we in the ministry, are keen to support you. We can’t work in a risk averse way. When genuine mistakes are made, we must be prepared to deal with it. We need to be confident in the work we do and support each other. 

25 Lastly, I look forward to SSI facilitating this growth and development, and your active participation in this journey. Thank you very much and congratulations on the new facilities. I hope that you will all continue to give SSI your full support. 

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