Social services finding favour among young grads

Charities seeing more young workers seeking personal fulfilment in their careers

Miss Lim Shu Jing joined the National Kidney Foundation after graduation.
Miss Lim Shu Jing joined the National Kidney Foundation after graduation. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Fresh out of school, Miss Lim Shu Jing joined the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) this year.

As part of her job, she navigates the musty corridors of one-room rental flats to befriend the elderly residents, taking them out for some chit-chat and fresh air.

Despite earning less than her peers who landed business and human resource jobs, the 23-year-old James Cook University psychology graduate said: "I didn't think twice as there is an intrinsic reward in working with and helping people."

Many young people like her are helping to fill a wave of new job openings in social services that has come about because of Singapore's growing and ageing population.

Over the last decade, the sector has tripled in size to 15,000 workers, latest figures show.

The median age of these professionals - from social workers and psychologists to those in corporate and support positions - is 38.

This is four years younger than the national average, according to the first manpower and salary survey done by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Charities, too, have been seeing an influx of younger employees.

At the Singapore Red Cross (SRC), for instance, one in three of its workers is below 30, compared to one in five in 2009.

And at the NKF, the share of its Generation Y workers - those born in or after 1977 - has risen from 44 per cent in 2009 to 63 per cent now. They make up the bulk of its workforce.

SRC's chief executive Benjamin William said: "Many Gen Y workers seek meaningful careers that will leave a positive impact on society, and are also particularly keen on championing a good cause."

In the past, most would head for other better-paying jobs, said charities. Those who want to give back would either volunteer on the side or join the sector mid-career when they were financially comfortable.

Now, promising young graduates are vying fiercely with their peers to join the sector.

The National Council of Social Service (NCSS), for one, received 284 applications for its scholarships and study awards this year, more than double the 118 in 2011.

Veteran social worker Ang Bee Lian noted that more young people are attracted to the profession.

"There is recognition of these as purposeful, respectable careers which have immediate impact on lives, and most of the workers sense a deep respect from others... about what they do," said Ms Ang, who is MSF's director of social welfare.

It also helps, she said, that the council has tried to address some of the major gripes of the sector: low pay and lack of career progression.

While salaries of social service professionals still lag behind those of their peers in other sectors by a few hundred dollars, the council has brought in human resource experts to work with the voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to see how pay can be raised.

A centralised hiring system that will rotate social service leaders across various VWOs to help them rise in their careers is also expected to kick in by year end.

Under MSF's 2012 guidelines, a social worker fresh out of university should be paid $2,760. The median pay of all new graduates last year was $3,050, according to a survey by several universities.

Ms Ang said the social service sector will need 2,000 to 3,000 more workers in the next five years. The career centre set up last year by the NCSS has posted about 1,200 job vacancies to date.

Said Miss Lim: "I hope more people will come forward as there is much room for personal development in such jobs."

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