You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. -Victor Hugo
Practitioners in the social sector will probably agree full-heartedly with Victor Hugo. It takes something more for an individual to commit an entire career path to serving others. Working in the Social Service Sector requires him or her to spot the neglected, overlooked cracks of society and mend them. It is not difficult to understand how challenging it is to be an uplifter for the broken, and how much more demanding it is to become a successful one that lasts through tough, heart-wrenching cases.
In order to understand the secrets to being a successful uplifter, we need to first understand where they come from. In Singapore, the Social Service Sector has ample potential to grow. According to the National Council of Social Services (NCSS), Singapore is home to over 13,000 social service practitioners. These uplifters lift up the broken and speak life over them, mending blocks of society one by one, brick by brick. The community of Social Service practitioners have also witnessed an increase in registered social workers over the last four years.
The latest figures by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) revealed that the number of registered social workers here has doubled to 1,600. This means that there are 29 for every 100,000 people in Singapore. This makes it necessary for the sector to expand for the rapidly aging population.
Moving forward, the first secret to being a successful uplifter is then, perhaps, to make sure that the community has concrete succession plans to continue his or her legacy.
Singapore has already begun to embrace and prepare for the demographic changes ahead. To meet the needs of an ageing population, about 90 more social workers are needed per year. One possible channel to bring about an increase in quality social workers was to have universities offer relevant courses. As of today, both JCU and NUS offer degrees in Social Work. With the knowledge that work will be continued in capable hands, the uplifter can rest assured that the impact can be sustained in the longer term. In turn, he or she can continue to fight the good fight without worrying that the effort put in would go to waste.
The second secret to being a successful uplifter is to never stop learning.
Other than recruiting new passionate talents, the Social Service Sector also made sure to take care of her existing practitioners. Through initiatives such as the ACE Capstone Leadership Programme for NonProfits, jointly developed by the Tote Board and the SSI, Social Service practitioners have the opportunity to keep on learning and adapting to ever-changing needs. With updated knowledge and skills, practitioners can continue to meet the demands on the ground successfully.
Thirdly, constant tangible benefits can certainly help practitioners to pick themselves up even after dejection and seeming failure.
One good, practical question to ask is this: “If you are always giving to others, who then, will be the one to give to you?”. Having a clear career progression framework helps to provide evident incentives to encourage the uplifter. For example, a national career roadmap has been launched recently. This was a tangible effort to professionalise the sector and provide a clear plan for advancements. Furthermore, pay rises for the sector were announced in 2016 and this added value to how social work is a skilled profession deserving good remuneration. A pay rise of 3 to 19 per cent was given to social workers and other social service professionals, such as psychologists and therapists.
Introspectively, the fourth secret to being an successful uplifter is community support.
More often than not, fellow practitioners in the Social Service Sector are the people who best understand the feelings of joy and pain in the field. Being Superman might sound like an exaggeration but reality doesn’t really hit far. In the keynote address by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin at the Rehabilitation And Care Conference 2017, he addressed the needs of social practitioners. He mentioned that “it is very intensive work, and the social workers in the sector spend a lot of time, even weekends, with the families themselves. It is important for us to make sure the work is sustainable. We do need to look after our social workers as well.”. One of the key secrets to being a successful uplifter is definitely the support behind him or her.
The fifth secret is freedom away from becoming increasingly process-driven.
In the name of efficiency and fairness, tasks are often listed within timescales, benchmarking and KPIs. It became as though ends triumphed over means. Flipping the coin, this prevents workers from going wrong rather than inspiring them to excel. Social service works with people. Circumstances are often unpredictable, and there is no one-size-fits-all policy. Therefore, practitioners need the freedom to be flexible, leaning on past experience and present observations to act, and not react.
And that leaves the uplifter with one last and possibly most important ingredient, Passion.
Oprah Winfrey brings the essence of it to life by saying: “Ignoring your passion is like dying a slow death…Passion whispers to you through your feelings, beckoning you toward your highest good. Pay attention to what makes you feel energised, connected, stimulated- what gives you your juice. Do what you love, give it back in the form of service, and you will do more than succeed. You will triumph.”. Passion is probably the reason why the uplifter got to where he or she is in the first place, and it is absolutely vital for social service practitioners to keep their fire going.
The social sector might very well be the motherland of unsung warriors. A successful uplifter must first be uplifted himself or herself. To be consistent in caring, meeting needs and solving problems, the practitioner would require a supportive environment to thrive and grow. Quoting The Guardian, the average lifespan of a career in social work lasts eight years. 73% of the respondents surveyed in America suffer from emotional exhaustion as a result of work. As much as these numbers are not indicative of Singapore, it gives us a good idea of how burning out is common and more should be done to help sustain the Social Service Sector.
Self-assurance is key, for the grit often comes from within. Let’s take a leaf out of the book of Dory’s book and keep swimming. We might not be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, but our impact weighs much too. Undeniably, there are some people whom only the Social Service practitioner can reach. The greatest obstacle to solving societal problems is the belief that someone else is going to do it, and the most heartening thing about the uplifter is that he or she roll up the sleeves to do it personally.
Useful links and references
Keynote address by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin at the Rehabilitation and Care Conference 2017 | Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2017). Msf.gov.sg. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Pages/Keynote-address-by-Mr-Tan-Chuan-Jin-at-the-Rehabilitation-and-Care-Conference-2017.aspx
NCSS - Social Service Careers. (2017). Ncss.gov.sg. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://www.ncss.gov.sg/Social-Service-Careers
TAI, J. (2017). Number of social workers doubles in last 4 years. The Straits Times. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/number-of-social-workers-doubles-in-last-4-years
Singapore Sees Talent Demand for Employees in the Social Services Sector - HR in ASIA. (2017). HR in ASIA. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from http://www.hrinasia.com/hr-news/singapore-sees-talent-demand-for-employees-in-the-social-services-sector/
We need to engage and motivate social workers – let's get creative. (2017). the Guardian. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/social-life-blog/2017/jan/25/we-need-to-engage-and-motivate-social-workers-lets-get-creative