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Social services should be included in infrastructure planning: Chan Chun Sing

The sector should be considered a key instrument of nation-building, much like a strong defence and a successful economy, said the Social and Family Development Minister.

SINGAPORE: The social service sector must be elevated to be equally important as national defence and healthcare, said Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (July 22), at a conference organised by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

The key instruments of nation-building are generally a strong defence, a successful economy and a good healthcare system. But the social service sector needs to be part of the equation, said the minister: "Let us in the social service sector unite together and elevate social service to the same level as we talk about defence, economic success. Because the social service can provide that glue that will bond us together as a society."

Mr Chan said social services must be included in infrastructure planning, because "it is part and parcel of our infrastructure, very much just as roads, traffic light, and road signs".

Manpower crunch remains an issue for the sector, which has a high turnover rate. To attract and retain talent, a new scheme will be rolled out to groom potential leaders who will be exposed to a range of issues and job scopes.

Mr Fermin Diez, Deputy CEO and Group Division Human Capital Development of NCSS, said the turnover rate is over 20 percent - higher than most other sectors. "It is a hard life, it is hard work. To attract is also difficult for the same reasons - in terms of coming in, being able to find adequate work conditions, good pay, good training, good ability to develop career opportunities. That's a lot of the work we're doing."

The Council also wants to boost its volunteer numbers - through a new Volunteer Resource Optimisation programme. It will put in place systems for recruitment, training and deployment of volunteer resources.

NCSS CEO Sim Gim Guan said there will be consultation with various voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) in the coming months to determine the level of interest in the use of volunteers, the scope of work and the feasibility of a structured volunteer management plan.

There will be two tracks to developing the sector, he said. "One is, of course, professionalising the sector through development of our people. And secondly, engaging the community to complement sector professionals."

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, also spoke at the conference. He said social workers will become more important as Singapore faces rising social challenges, including issues related to identity, inequality and immigrants.

He said the first 50 years of Singapore's growth was exceptional because of political stability and remarkable economic growth. "But I can tell you that we are to go from being an exceptional nation to becoming a normal nation. Which is you now have to live with some degree of unpredictability and some degree of economic uncertainty. The question therefore for Singapore's future is how resilient are we as a society, how ready are we to meet these new challenges."

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