Live & Learn
10 Things You Should Know If You Want To Be A Social Worker

Contributed by Cindy Tan

n a competitive Asian society, importance is placed on status, professional image and pay grade. Social work is often overlooked in favour of better-paying jobs such as doctor, lawyer and accountant to name a few, but in recent years, many professionals are looking to make a mid-career switch to social service. Social workers will tell you that there are few jobs that are as fulfilling as social work is. It gives you the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better, learn about human behaviour and at the same time create meaning in your life.

Despite the heightened interest in social work, there is still a shortfall of manpower in the industry, and the demand will outweigh the supply as Singapore continues to face an aging population. If you’ve been thinking about leaving a mind numbing, soul crushing desk-bound job to join the social service sector, you’re a hero Singapore needs. But before you dive headfirst into the industry, here’s what you need to know.

1.    Social workers are not just volunteers

“Contrary to popular belief, social workers are not volunteers. They possess skills to formulate assessment pertaining to individual and family functioning. We collaborate with people we assist, and sometimes we make difficult decisions that may not seem kind to others,” Ms Mabel Kong, Social worker, Family Services @ Yio Chu Kang under AMKFSC Community Services

2.    You need more than just a big heart and lots of patience

Social workers go through hours of training, study and multiple examinations to get accredited.

3.    You have to put the client’s needs above your own

“There may also be no work-life balance, and we may have to forgo self-interest for the clients’ interest,” says Ms Natalie Lim, Centre Head, Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre under AMKFSC Community Services.

4.    You have to be able to emotionally compartmentalise

“One of the most difficult parts of this job is the frequent verbal abuse and threats from our clients. Clients may also blame social workers when they do not get what they want. It can be very trying emotionally, but you develop the ability to cope professionally over time,” says Ms Mabel Kong.

5.    Speak to a social worker first

Before diving into the field, speak to someone with experience. “Through speaking with someone already in the profession, they can learn more about the dynamism of the field and evaluate if this is a profession that they would want to be in. Also, because of the educational qualification criteria, the person must also be willing to further their studies,” says Ms Estelle Tan, Social worker, Family Services @ Yio Chu Kang under AMKFSC Community Services

6.    You need to be ready

“Without the readiness in their personal commitment to the job, it may be tough for them to remain in the sector. Furthermore, one must be academically qualified – possesses at least a Bachelor degree – to become a social worker,” says Ms Estelle Tan

7.    Be a volunteer first

“It is important for them to know what they are getting into, and not enter the industry with any preconceived notions of grandeur. For example, they could first volunteer at a VWO to have an idea of what social workers do,” says Ms Mabel Kong

8.    Have an open mind

“Anyone who decides to embark on their journey to become a social worker must be receptive to learning new things, and have an open mind, especially since you will meet people who come from diverse backgrounds and have opinions that differ from you,” Ms Mabel Kong adds.

9.    Mid-career switchers, prepare for a pay cut

“Mid-career switchers may experience a reduction in their remuneration, during the initial years after their professional conversion. However, as they grow in their experience and competencies, they can expect competitive remuneration with a defined career pathway,” says Ms Estelle Tan

10.     Make use of professional conversion programmes

“There are several programmes and schemes offered to give them orientation or opportunity to enter the industry (see below). These are well-known programmes that are supported by many social service employers. Many organisations also recruited many staff from programmes such as VCF Professional Capability Grant - Professional Conversion Programme by National Council of Social Service, Professional Conversion Programme for Social Workers by Social Service Institute, and the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for Social Workers offered by Workforce Singapore.