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Singapore Government

Speech at Official Launch of Sun Ray Scheme

Speech at Official Launch of Sun Ray Scheme

Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Social and Family Development, at the Official Launch of Sun Ray Scheme, at the Social Service Institute Training Hub, on 20 Nov 2014, 10.15am

1     In the social service sector, there are three things that will help us improve our service delivery to the clients and to beneficiaries in need.

2     The first has to do with policies. We have made improvements to various policies over the last few years, and we will continue to roll out policies that will help Singaporeans in need. The second thing has to do with ensuring that we organise ourselves better. We have seen this in the setting up of Social Service Offices across the island to better serve the beneficiaries and to better connect the various VWOs. The all-important third thing, beyond policies and organisation, is human resource development.

3     Let me share with you the reasons why I push for this scheme.

4     About three years ago, in my first visit to a Family Service Centre, I asked a very experienced social worker, “can you tell me the career progression for social workers?” She told me jokingly that there were four steps - you start off as a social worker, then you become a senior social worker, then you become a very senior social worker and then you become an extremely senior social worker. There were only four steps in a very long career, and four steps in a very narrow path in her specific organisation. I begin to wonder, how can I do justice to her passion and her talent?

5     I have come across and I have had the privilege to work with many social workers and social service professionals who are talented and who have deep passion to want to serve and do better. In my various visits to VWOs, I have learnt that they faced challenges retaining staff. To help the many beneficiaries to walk out of the dark valleys of life, we need perseverance. We need perseverance to see through the job, as we may not be able to succeed in a day or two or even a week or so. Sometimes, it takes us years to achieve what we want. But how often do we have social service professionals who stay in an organisation long enough to see through the needs of our beneficiaries?

6     It is not that our social service professionals do not want to stay that long. They face challenges in their job. Very often, some get burnt out from the emotional demands of their work. How then do we make sure our people can stay long enough, and be given the opportunities to have space for themselves so they can continue to do great things for our beneficiaries?

7     While we are competing amongst ourselves to get talented, passionate people within the sector, our larger competition is with people outside the sector. The fragmented nature of our sector does not encourage many to join us. I have had people - young and aspiring ones - who want to make a switch and they asked me, “If I come in, will I get a career? Will I get the opportunities to serve and to contribute?” For those who are more fortunate, they are able to join bigger VWOs. Smaller VWOs are unable to provide the breadth and depth of career opportunities for many of these aspiring people who want to join us to do good for society.

8     Our competition is not within the sector. It is a zero-sum game if we compete amongst ourselves for the finite talent. Our competition is beyond this sector, to attract people with the passion to serve to join us.

9     There are many good ideas in the sector. And we can do better, especially in facilitating the sharing of good ideas. Why is it that the ideas are not flowing around fast enough so that we can all level up, leverage on each other’s expertise rather than reinvent the wheel all over again?

10 How can we bring the many passionate people who are working so hard on the ground closer together so that we can all serve the community without overlapping and without diminishing our resources? How can we tighten the networking on the ground?

11     Another challenge is the artificial divide between policy makers and service deliverers, ie the mindset that there should be one group of people who will design the policies and another group that will deliver and execute the policies. This is an artificial divide we should not have. We cannot make good policies unless we understand the real issues on the ground and we cannot execute the policy well unless we have a clear understanding of the policy at hand. The two need to be coupled together tightly.

12     The Sun Ray scheme is one small step but one significant milestone to mitigate many of these challenges that we have seen over the years.

13     What will Sun Ray scheme bring? The Sun Ray scheme goes to the heart of our challenges - People Development. If we can groom a group of leaders with the breadth and depth of experience, with the exposure across the entire sector, with the understanding at both policy-making and execution levels, then we would have taken one giant step towards what we want to achieve in this sector. No matter how well we design our policies, no matter how well we want to structure our organisations, it is people who will make the systems and the policies improve.

14     The people who are selected to join the Sun Ray scheme, you are the change agents that will help us realise this dream to bridge the divide within the sector so that as a sector, we compete to attract the best. Your job is not to serve a particular organisation. Your job is to bring the entire sector together.

15     This has not been an easy journey. In the last nine to 12 months that we have worked on this scheme, we have heard some reservations and we hope that through this journey we have also addressed some of the reservations.

16     Some people asked - will the Sun Ray scheme cannibalise the manpower from the existing VWOs? We are not interested to cannibalise existing manpower that VWOs have. In fact, we want to bring in new streams of manpower to strengthen our sector. Today, you will see some examples like Malcolm and Vasu who have come back to join us. Malcolm was in the teaching service and now has decided to come back and join us because he feels the passion to serve in our sector. Vasu started in the sector, went on to private practice, accumulated much experience and now he is back with us.

17     We hope to have many more people join us because they want to excel in this sector, to serve. Be it new entrants, fresh graduates or mid-career switchers; we welcome you so long as you have the passion to serve. If we work together, I am confident this scheme will help us to attract many more to strengthen the sector.

18     Many people also ask: Will I lose my good staff to the rest of the sector? Even if we have to redeploy a person out from a particular VWO, we are doing it for the development of the staff and for the good of the sector. We rather give our people the opportunities to develop within the sector than to lose people out of the sector. As long as that person is still with us in the sector, I am very confident that regardless of where that person is, one day, he or she will continue to serve the sector and the VWOs well.

19 Once we move beyond a mindset that focuses just on our VWOs, then we will have a more powerful idea of the entire sector developing together. This scheme will only work if everyone in the sector chips in. We will all benefit much more than what we put in.    

20     With the rolling out of this scheme, some have asked me if it is my plan to nationalise all social workers. I have no such plan and I have no such need. It is not the intention of this scheme for the government to employ everyone in the social service sector. We do not need to do that and that is not our focus. Many VWOs can and should continue to directly employ their own staff. The aim of the Sun Ray scheme is to build a core of leaders in both the professional and leadership tracks.

21     For those who want to develop their leadership potential in the professional and management track, then the Sun Ray scheme will help you to realise your potential, and in the process, we hope you will help us to realise the dream of an integrated sector where ideas flow freely, where networks are tightened on the ground, where there is no divide between policy and execution.

22     This is a significant milestone in our development, this is the first important step that we will take, but there is still much work for us to do.

23     I am very happy to note the efforts that have brought about this. The fact that we are standing here to launch this today is due to the efforts of MSF and NCSS staff who have worked very hard behind the scenes, the many partner VWOs, and even people who are traditionally not associated with the social service sector who have chipped in to help us – HR managers from private sector organisations who shared with us their best practices and who helped us check our blind spots and see where we could do better. For all these people who have contributed to this journey, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your effort and contributions, we would not have come so far, so fast.

24     In order for this to work, we will need a critical mass of participants in the scheme. For all the participants that we are inducting to the scheme today – if I may just share with you three simple words that I hope you will remember in your service. I hope you will imbue in yourself these three characteristics or values that will make you stand out – to serve, to lead and to connect.

25     You are here because you have a heart to serve; you are here because you care. You care about the people within our community because you want to touch lives. To desire to serve, is the first and foremost quality that we expect. To lead is the second. To lead not just your VWO, but to lead the sector. To lead, not just in the professional area of work, but also in the management of the people under your charge. To connect, so that we can tighten the network on the ground. To connect, such that we will never have an artificial divide between policy makers and policy executioners. To connect, so that we will never have another situation where the best ideas take ages to flow across the entire sector. To also connect not just within our sector, but to connect beyond our sector, so that we too can leverage on their expertise to serve the beneficiaries in our sector.

26     I hope the inductees today will help us carry the torch, to shine the light on the new way forward on how we as a sector recruit, retain, deploy and develop our people to do justice to their talent and passion.

27     This scheme also marks a significant departure from the way we previously did things. It signifies that MSF is not just a buyer of services from VWOs. It signifies that NCSS is also not just a passive partner in the training and development of the social service professionals in our sector. This scheme signifies a partnership between MSF, NCSS and all partner VWOs, to come together as one to recruit, retain, develop and deploy all the social service professionals to the best of their ability. If we get this right, we will have very powerful social service organisations in the years to come.

28     Having said that, we must not let expectations run ahead of us. What we do today will not see immediate results tomorrow. What we do today will set the foundation for a stronger social service sector in five to ten years’ time. I hope what we do today has laid that foundation for that strengthened partnership for all of us to do better for our beneficiaries.

29     Thank you.

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