Social sector adopts technology to cushion manpower woes

One of the featured technologies is Snow, a personal robot assistant that comes equipped with face and voice recognition capabilities as well as an built-in infrared thermometer, making attendance and temperature taking simple and efficient. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
The Barton Convertible Chair demonstration at the showcase of technology during the Social Service Summit. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The social service sector will offer technological solutions to charities at a subsidised rate to help ease the manpower shortage.

These include video analytic and facial recognition programmes that can monitor elderly beneficiaries as well as AI robots that help people with disabilities to connect to smart devices using their voices.

The solutions are part of two initiatives announced by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) at the Social Service Summit on Tuesday (July 16) held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

The annual event aims to inspire the sector to adopt novel solutions and nurture a culture of collaboration.

NCSS president Anita Fam told the gathering of around 1,000 social service professionals, donors and government representatives that the sector needs to continually innovate to tackle issues like manpower and funding constrains.

"As society becomes increasingly complex and our needs evolve, our sector needs to reinvent itself and find new solutions to these challenges with limited resources. We need to have a more open mindset, be open to change and new ideas, to new ways of doing things, and even be open to failing," Ms Fam said, adding that "innovation can change affordability, accessibility and effectiveness" of the sector.

A sector-wide survey conducted by the NCSS this year noted that most agencies said their lowest-performing areas included funding and engagement, innovation and collaboration.

The initiatives announced at the event - Tech Booster and Project Back-to-Basics - are designed to help agencies alleviate staff shortages while using technology to build capabilities.

Agencies can adopt various technologies and get subsidies of between 90 and 98 per cent, based on the funding tiers available.

The initiatives are backed by close to $20 million from the National Productivity Fund, which provides grants for companies to invest in productivity.

Tech Booster aims to introduce technology into residential facilities that find it hard to hire people, such as adult disability homes, activity centres, welfare and voluntary children's homes.

The technology showcased at the summit included a GPS tracker watch that can monitor the location of a beneficiary and create an electronic fence alarm. There were also sound monitoring sensors and human-like cleaning robots.

These technologies are expected to reduce up to 30 per cent of the time spent by care workers.

The second project - Back-to-Basics - provides funding to professionals such as social workers and therapists to adopt technology to handle routine tasks like administration work so more time can be spent with beneficiaries.

Trybe, a social service agency that helps run the Singapore Boys' Hostel and the Community Rehabilitation Centre, is keen to adopt some of the gadgets, including the video analytics technology that can predict behaviour through facial recognition software to monitor its clients, who are youth or drug offenders.

Trybe assistant director Vimel Rajoo said the technology will help enhance supervision. "The camera will help us detect the emotions of the clients in a setting."

"Based on the facial feature and body posture, the technology can detect if the client is angry, happy or any other emotions. This will provide us with analysis and also early intervention if needed," he said.

Early detection allows staff to intervene before a fight happens, a situation escalates or if a client needs help," he said. "It will also allow staff to place their attention on those who need help, while still maintaining the supervision of the rest."

The summit was hosted by Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, who noted that the tech features and projects were a pathway towards the digital transformation of the sector.

"I hope this (the showcase) will spark ideas on how we can encourage productivity, innovation and digital practices within our own organisations... and make the work of our professionals and our volunteers more manageable."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.