SINGAPORE: Some of Singapore’s voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) are looking to recruit social workers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, even as the country is rolling out initiatives to develop a core pool of social service professionals to meet the increasing needs of the sector.
Public hospitals in Singapore have been sourcing such workers from economies like Taiwan and Hong Kong for some years now.
A spokesperson from the Health Ministry told Channel NewsAsia: “Singapore’s healthcare demand will continue to grow with our ageing and growing population.
“To meet Singapore’s growing healthcare needs, the public healthcare clusters have been recruiting overseas-trained healthcare professionals, including medical social workers to supplement our local training pipeline.”
Gwen Tsang came to Singapore from Hong Kong to work as a medical social worker three years ago.
Given the nature of the job, Ms Tsang said adapting to the local system, culture and habits was of utmost importance when she first started.
She elaborated: “As a foreigner, it (was) very new to me. We need to know about the different healthcare system and social system in Singapore.
“In Singapore, we have CPF (Central Provident Fund) and Medisave and MediShield; in Hong Kong, we don’t have this system. So after I came here, I (had) to work very hard to study… all these policies.
“About the local culture — as a social worker, we need to know about the local people’s lives here. This is the reason why I always keep myself open to make new friends. They (Singaporeans) are also from different cultural background. Some Malays, Indians, after I got in touch with them, I (learnt) about some of the cultural taboos.”
The Health Ministry said 14 per cent of its 390 medical social workers (as of December 2013) are foreigners.
They are either from Hong Kong, Taiwan or Malaysia.
VWOs, too, are looking overseas to hire social workers.
Representatives from four VWOs, including Lakeside Family Services and Fei Yue Community Services, went to Hong Kong in late March to source for potential candidates.
The team also comprised officials from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and Social and Family Development Ministry.
The NCSS said it sent representatives from its career centre at the Social Service Institute to facilitate the recruitment and to give prospective candidates a better overview of Singapore’s social service landscape.
Hong Kong has about 600-700 social work graduates each year, compared to just about 200-300 in Singapore. Not all of the graduates will eventually go into the field.
Industry players said Hong Kong also has a long history of social service expertise that Singapore can tap into.
Teo Tee Loon, executive director at Lakeside Family Services, said: “For Hong Kong, in terms of their training and social work education, they are quite a lot ahead of Singapore. They’ve been around for more than 50 years or more. If you look at the Family Service Centre scene in Singapore, it’s about 20 over years.
“The Family Service Centre in Hong Kong has been (around for) more than 50 years… So they have a lot of experience. As a matter of fact, a lot of our social workers do make trips to Hong Kong to learn about the various social work that they do; for example, work with youth at risk, work with drug addicts and so on because they have established the work there. The quality of social work education is not in question because they are well trained.”
Mr Teo said his centre is looking at hiring one or two social workers from Hong Kong.
He said: “The trip was fruitful and enriching. It helped me gain a greater appreciation of the Hong Kong social work scene, workload and demands on Hong Kong social workers. We also got to visit one of the local universities. We interviewed quite a lot of candidates and I did see a few that I would like to offer a second interview to.”
The NCSS said Singapore still needs to look outside even as it beefs up its local manpower capacity within the social service sector.
That is because demand for social services is set to increase as the population ages, and for now, the country is not churning out enough professionals.
Sim Gim Guan, chief executive officer at NCSS, said: “We hope that through the different schemes that we have in place, we will be able to attract more and more Singaporeans to come into this sector.
“And of course if over the years, if we are very successful in this then clearly that will be useful. But as you know, the needs of the sector will increase so the question before us is whether we are able to keep pace with the needs and if we can’t, then clearly we have to look at alternative sources.”
To help such workers adapt to the sector in Singapore, the Health Ministry provides support and training to its medical social workers – for example, assigning them a buddy and providing close supervision during the initial period to help familiarise them with the local social assistance and welfare schemes in Singapore.