“The sector must also grapple with a high attrition rate, partly due to burn-out among staff and the less competitive pay” (Slew of Initiatives to Attract, Retain Talent in Social Service Sector, Toh Ee Ming).
A good second step – building on the laudable moves by the government “to attract and retain talent in a sector that is facing a labour crunch” (TODAY, Apr. 13), through a “slew of initiatives” – would be to engage social workers or social work professionals more actively, to understand their concerns about retention or advancement within the social service sector. And besides present employees, perspectives of those who have moved between charities or who have left the non-profit and philanthropy sector altogether must be sought, because they are likely to be more candid about the deficiencies they have observed or experienced. These critical insights, moreover, can then be put to bear on quantitative indicators, especially the turnover rates over time, across sectors, and compared between socio-demographic traits.
And in the long-term, the effectiveness of these government initiatives must be benchmarked against past figures, specifically in terms of the overall recruitment and retention numbers.
This emphasis on the social workers is important, because similar campaigns to staff the sector have thus far focused disproportionately on the “demand” side – that is, the charities – and not as much on the “supply” side, or the workers. As a result, the message is often about making the social service sector attractive, debunking misconceptions, and helping existing workers improve their skills, instead of addressing the concerns or expectations of prospective and present social workers. Already pay and compensation have improved. Years ago in 2013 the Singapore Association of Social Workers lobbied for a common pay scale, and fresh graduates now earn higher wages, which means more attention must now be paid to other aspects.
Different research approaches can complement these government initiatives. The first would be to highlight non-profit organisations or charities with good human-resource policies, through interviews with managers and their subordinates. Again, historical turnover rates would be a good gauge of this. Second, focus groups or interviews with prospective social workers – across entry levels and job responsibilities – will allow organisations to better understand the factors which attract or repel potential candidates. And third, in this bid to improve recruitment, retention, advancement, as well as the management and organisation, accountability of the leadership to actually implement policies should be fostered through more precise targets. Data analytics and 360 evaluations, for example, should be helpful.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.