Letter on Retaining Talents in the Social Sector | SPD - Singapore

Letter on Retaining Talents in the Social Sector


Photo of SPD executive director, Mr Abhimanyau Pal

SPD executive director, Mr Abhimanyau Pal, weighs in on attracting and retaining the right people for the social sector in a letter to the TODAY newspaper which was published on 17 June 2014.


We thank Ms Theresa Goh for her insightful views in her commentary “Getting good leaders for the social sector” (TODAY, June 10), about helping current leaders and attracting new talent to the social service sector.

There have been a number of timely government initiatives in recent years to attract and retain people into the sector. Such measures help give greater focus to the emerging non-profit sector.

Despite this, the sector is still playing catch-up from a legacy of overemphasis on economic growth, as the post-independence years necessitated that the best talent and growth be linked to economic development during the nation-building phase.

There is still a perception among our people, including new graduates, that the non-profit sector would be unable to provide adequate remuneration, the right training and career progression.

There is also a misperception that pay is secondary for those passionate enough to join the sector. While many do so to contribute to society, they face living expenses similar to any other worker’s. Though passionate, many do not stay long, especially those with young families, as they are burdened by bread-and-butter issues. Hence, the non-profit sector may not be most people’s first career choice.

Over time, the talent gap has grown and people doubt the sector’s capability of developing good leaders. Offering pay compatible with one’s experience and expertise, and comparable to those with similar skill sets in other sectors, can help draw talent.

The Government is right to explore and invest more in the sector, as our nation’s overall well-being depends also on the people sector. Recruiting and retaining people is one piece of a large puzzle the sector is trying to fix.

Having good leaders, though, is not enough to develop an effective social service sector. Good leadership must be augmented by organisational infrastructure, including corporate functions in governance, human resource, capability development and capacity building, to deliver a healthy social service ecosystem. These areas deserve equal if not more attention.

Non-profit groups are now expected to be run professionally and better.

However, most donors would rather have their donations be channelled directly to beneficiaries than be used for critical infrastructure such as finance and corporate communications, and overheads such as rent and utilities. No mainstream government funding is available now to cover these.

If charities are expected to function like a commercial outfit, it is fair that they recruit a chief financial officer, human resource director, information technology manager and direct operations staff of therapists, teachers, counsellors and social workers, as well as operate out of proper office space.

It is time the sector works with the relevant ministries and grant-makers to build an appropriate model to fund corporate development and infrastructure costs, which impact service delivery outcomes directly.