Misconceptions that social workers are unpaid volunteers persist although the profession has a history stretching more than six decades.
So, in one of the most significant moves to professionalise the sector so far, a national career roadmap was launched yesterday.
This will give such workers a guide to upgrade their skills in order to advance in their jobs and earn more.
The move aims to ease the social service sector's longstanding problems of staff leaving due to low pay, limited career progression and the lack of a structured career pathway.
There are 1,600 registered social workers. To meet the needs of the ageing population, about 90 more are needed yearly.
Social issues now tend to be more complex and multi-faceted so the National Social Work Competency Framework aims to standardise job expectations in multiple settings such as healthcare or community- based social services.
Speaking at its launch, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said: "The framework recognises there are common qualities that we all need and a lot of overlap in the work that we do.
"Some social issues don't involve healthcare but a lot of it invariably comes together."
He added: "We need to share the information more freely and this is not just between the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Ministry of Health (MOH) but other agencies as well.
"For example, through the prisons service, preschools and schools we are picking up social information about some families that will trigger follow-up efforts."
Having clear benchmarks across sectors will also mean a social worker can move more easily from say, the prisons to a hospital to a charity because his previous work history will be recognised.
Training, including courses under the new SkillsFuture initiative, will be developed according to the skills set out in the framework.
Ms Chee Liee Chin, a co-chairman of the steering committee that led the development of the framework, said pay scales are likely to be aligned to job positions as well, though they have yet to be linked.
The career plan is supported by MSF, MOH and the National Council of Social Service.
Ms Tammie Chng, 25, joined Singapore General Hospital as a medical social worker two years ago.
She said: "When I first came in, my concern was that social workers may not go very far and we will just remain at that level for the rest of our careers, but the framework spells out clearly what kind of roles we can go for."