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Speech by Mr Sim Guan at the Inaugural SUSS UniLearn Forum

Guest-Of-Honour Speech By Mr Sim Gim Guan, CEO, NCSS, at the SUSS UniLearn Forum On 28 November 2019, 2.00pm at the Enabling Village

 

Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS);
Associate Professor Lee Wee Leong, Director of Online Learning at SUSS;
Colleagues and partners in the sector

  1. Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me today and congratulations to SUSS on organising the inaugural UniLEARN Forum. I am glad to be here this afternoon at an event that encourages collaboration, with the different players in the ecosystem coming together to equip and raise the capability of the various stakeholders, so that they can perform their roles more effectively.

Importance of building capability and capacity in the social service sector

  1. This is an issue close to NCSS’s heart. Changing family structures, complexity of social issues, and evolving needs of service users are the new normal in this landscape. On one hand, it is heartening to see a greater awareness and push for inclusion, as well as more active efforts within the community to play a larger role in supporting those in need.
  1. On the other hand, as society continues to recognise the need to be inclusive, it is important that those working in the sector are adequately equipped to interact with the different groups of service users and journey with them in addressing their needs.
  1. How should we respond to the “new normal”? One thing that is clear to me is that there is a greater need for people from diverse skillsets to come together to tackle problems, and move towards meeting needs in different ways. For example, leveraging on technology to facilitate service provision.

The capability and capacity building eco-system

  1. At NCSS, we have been working towards building a caring and inclusive society – one that empowers everyone to achieve his or her fullest potential. The developments and various efforts nationwide and in the social service sector form a web of support, where each contributes in its own way to building capability and capacity.
  1. At the national level, SkillsFuture Singapore promotes a culture and holistic system of lifelong learning, and seeks to ensure that students and working adults have access to high quality, industry-relevant training throughout life; while Workforce Singapore focuses on helping the workforce meet their career aspirations and supporting manpower-lean enterprises to remain competitive.
  1. At the sector level, we have the Social Service Skills Framework, comprising a set of competency frameworks for the more common social service professions; education and training provided by the Institutes of Higher Learning, training organisations, and the Social Service Institute; as well as schemes and grants to attract and develop talent. These facilitate the work of social service agencies (SSAs) in providing higher quality services.
  1. For organisations, there is also a drive to improve organisational health, such as the S-GOOD programme by the Singapore Institute of Directors, and the Tote Board Non-Profit Sector Transformation Initiative – Organisation Development Programme led by NCSS.


SUSS and SSI – models of collaboration and partnership.

  1. mentioned earlier about the need for people from diverse backgrounds to come together to tackle problems, and move towards meeting needs in different ways. I would like to share examples from both NCSS and SUSS to demonstrate how this looks like in terms of training.
  1. At NCSS, we do not see course provision for social service professionals as being done only by the Social Service Institute (SSI). Rather, SSI plays an enabling role to strengthen the learning eco-system for the social service sector. We work with ground stakeholders in curriculum development to ensure it is relevant to their needs. On course delivery, we use a training network model, where we partner SSAs that already conduct training, Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and training organisations, rather than trying to deliver training all by ourselves. This allows us to scale up training provision and offer more learning opportunities for practitioners, to meet the demand for enhancing sector competency more quickly. This approach also ensures that the course curriculum and delivery are matched to the roles that the professionals perform in their organisations, and allows people to upgrade themselves to take on higher roles.
  1. Similar to how SSI works across the eco-system, SUSS too is an important enabler in this space. I would like to commend SUSS in taking a collaborative approach by working with partners to co-create the courses available on the UniLEARN platform. The courses developed are customised to needs on the ground, and leverage on existing expertise to ensure that the content is relevant. In SUSS’s model, partner agencies provide the content knowledge while SUSS supports them by providing the platform and infrastructure to facilitate the provision of these courses.
  1. In this, it is also interesting to note how SUSS and SSI play similar yet complementary roles. SSI targets social service professionals through more formal and structured training; while SUSS facilitates learning for other parts of the eco-system besides social service professionals, such as family members, caregivers, volunteers, and the larger community.
  1. Providing lifelong, learner-centric, and industry-relevant education is what drives SUSS’s work. Besides the UniLEARN initiative, SUSS also offers full and part time study for those intending to become social service professionals, as well as professional skills and knowledge upgrading. Earlier this year, SUSS and Commissioner of Charities announced that they would be co-developing a structured training curriculum on governance, fundraising, leadership, and volunteer management. This is but the tip of the iceberg of how SUSS seeks to meet the varying needs of learners who have different considerations in pursuing learning, as well as different learning styles.


The power of networks in building capacity

  1. The key element underpinning the examples I shared from SUSS and SSI is the partnership and network model which both have used. Forming networks allows us to leverage resources and knowledge more effectively than doing it alone. As the members of a network become engaged, the network grows a “capital” of relationships. This expands opportunities for learning and problem solving, accelerates innovative approaches, and creates a web of resources for more sustainable and effective non-profit organisations. For example, the Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits initiative by Washington Nonprofits distributes a learning tool across its network to help non-profit leaders build the organisation’s financial literacy.
  1. Networks also facilitate peer learning, and technology can catalyse this. In our previous interactions, SUSS shared with me that they aim to create an ecosystem so that training can be accessed by more learners and scaled. This is a great idea and a vision that we share at NCSS. However, none of us will be able to do this alone. We need to work with social service agencies and other partners to ensure we can equip the sector with the skills and knowledge quickly enough to respond to changing social trends.
  1. The UniLEARN courses are one such example. The courses developed by one agency could be accessed by others working with similar target groups or looking to hone similar skills. It is only through having different partners come together that UniLEARN is able to provide such a variety of offerings, and I would like to encourage everyone here today to continue sharing your knowledge with each other. I hope that more partners will join this community and contribute your unique expertise and experience, so that the sector can benefit from the sharing of collective wisdom.


How SUSS might contribute further to the landscape

  1. I believe there are other opportunities for SUSS to continue partnering the sector in the area of building capability and capacity for those working with vulnerable persons. For example, from NCSS’s involvement in developing the Social Service Skills Framework, we know that the sector needs learning opportunities and courses in certain domains in order for our professionals to be well-equipped to deliver quality interventions. NCSS is currently conducting an analysis of the training gaps to identify areas for curriculum and course development, as well as to look into career progression and pathways for professionals in the various tracks. This is where we hope SUSS can come in to strengthen the learning eco-system by filling some of these training gaps. Perhaps after today’s forum, we could explore opportunities to work together in this area.
  1. Besides curriculum and training delivery, I also see potential for SUSS to take its strategic role in transforming the sector to the next level. Most of you will be familiar with our sector’s roadmap, the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts, or the 4ST. One of the outcomes we envision under this roadmap is that needs are met seamlessly.
  1. While the main group that most quickly comes to mind when I say “needs” are vulnerable persons that we support, there is value in ensuring smoother and seamless transition for those who serve in the sector too. For example, many of the courses that have been developed under the UniLEARN initiative target volunteers. Volunteers are a great source of support in our sector that has manpower constraints. They do many things from knocking on doors of those who live alone, mentoring our youths at risk, providing emotional support to those in crisis, and helping out at various events that social service agencies and the community run.
  1. However, there are some things that volunteers may be keen to do but are unable to as they are not trained. With training, these volunteers can be more involved and take on work which relieves some of the load carried by the professionals. This allows professionals to focus on the work that only they can do.
  1. We hear of many professionals who started out as volunteers, but grew so passionate about what they were doing that they made career changes to join the sector instead. What if some of the existing training opportunities for volunteers were integrated into a foundation for those who eventually want to pursue a career in the sector?
  1. For example, volunteers who have taken a UniLEARN course in working with seniors could have it count towards credit if they take on further studies in gerontology. This would allow volunteers to transit to a career in the sector (if they want to) with a lower barrier of entry. Perhaps this is an area where SUSS can consider doing more in. SUSS is well placed in view of its target group of learners and education philosophy – Head (professional competency with applied knowledge), Heart (social awareness), and Habit (passion for lifelong learning).

Concluding Remarks

  1. I would like to round off my sharing with the thought that learning is a continuous process that should be part of one’s personal development, regardless of one’s role in the sector. Learning contributes to different aspects of your involvement in the sector. For social service professionals, you may undertake such a journey to acquire a professional qualification, for career progression, to provide better intervention, or to work better as a team. For board members or management, you learn so that you may become more effective at leading organisations and strategic planning. For family members, caregivers, volunteers, members of the public, or even frontline workers who may serve persons with certain conditions, simply just knowing how to interact more effectively with others in your community and how to support them is already a wonderful start to making a difference.
  1. Learning also allows us to play different roles to support vulnerable populations. Someone may be a youth worker, but he or she may also be caregiving for a family member with an illness, or neighbours with someone who has special needs. Learning brings us a step towards a more caring and inclusive society.
  1. I look forward to hearing more about the UniLEARN courses that have been developed thus far today, and I hope that the sector will keep innovating to create a vibrant learning community through partnerships and technology-enabled learning. Thank you, and I wish everyone a fruitful afternoon.
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