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Why Singapore's social service sector needs best hiring practices

Not just talent with 'a heart at the right place' but also leaders with the necessary skills set, experience and people skills will need to be found.

SAT, AUG 03, 2019 - 5:50 AM

A leader in the not-for-profit sector arguably requires a somewhat different skills set that might be worth more than their counterparts in the business sector.

AS employers here continue to grapple with the challenges associated with an ageing workforce and a "I-also-want-to-be-a-boss" mentality of our Gen Ys and millennials, attracting and retaining workforce talent continues to remain a key challenge for employers, including the social service sector.

Amid these challenges, Singapore's social service sector has evolved to a stage where it is a serious option for job seekers. I am seeing more matured Singaporeans becoming tired of the "focus purely on money-making" business sector, and seeking alternative, more meaningful and fulfilling careers.

There is a mindset shift from one that views the social service sector as a last-choice career, to one that is a real option. Out of the 150 not-for-profit organisations in Singapore, I can confidently haphazard a guess that a high percentage of these can benefit from a re-look at not only their organisational structure but also top leadership incumbents.

Some of the older ones who have been in existence for decades, continues to employ the same people since Day One.

Consequently, there is a need to bring into those organisations professionals with the right skills and mindset, and to professionalise the search for such talent. This can and should extend also to pro-bono board directors.

Professional job
In the corporate world, best hiring practices see companies paying professional search firms to headhunt their top-tier talent, and board members. This practice can also be considered in the social service sector.

Few of us will doubt the ability of headhunters to do a professional job - to comb the market place for potential candidates, to interview and evaluate them for the right skills set and motivation (both career as well as personal circumstances) - and to convince them to leave their (job candidates') employers to join their (headhunters') clients.

One of the biggest concerns, and rightfully so, is costs. Professional headhunters' services do come with a hefty price tag. However, if we acknowledge that hiring the right people is instrumental to the continued success of an organisation, shouldn't we invest in this important activity? The days of "Oh, I know of so-and-so who is just right for the job...", or "...I can introduce my friend to the board, he's got a heart at the right place..." are over.

Sophisticated market
For Singapore's social service sector to continue to evolve in the right direction, we need to find not just talent with 'a heart at the right place', but leaders with the necessary skills set, experience and people skills to move not-for-profit organisations in the right direction so they can continue to provide to the clients they serve. This will come with an financial investment.

"What! Your CEO is paid this kind of salary - this is what CEOs in the private sectors are paid." But, what is wrong with this? Just because someone is heading a not-for-profit organisation does not necessarily mean he/she has to be paid a relatively lower salary. Every job has a perceived value in the market place - and this is the 'right' salary for the incumbent.

In fact, I will argue that a leader in the not-for-profit sector requires a somewhat different skills set that might be worth more than their counterparts in the business sector.

As an example, and speaking from personal experience, it's more challenging for a leader to lead a group of volunteers, than a CEO to lead a team. Volunteers can choose not to follow you - whereas a corporate CEO has implicit organisational authority. Let's not be idealistic to expect that we can get qualified people for the price of a monkey.

I look forward to the day when our job market becomes even more sophisticated with employers, both for-profit, and not-for-profit, having to compete harder for the best talent.

On the other side of the coin, as employees, we must also pick up additional skills set, build our network contacts and people skills so we can continue to remain employable, regardless which sector we are working in.

•   The writer is an executive coach who volunteers with the Alzheimer's Disease Association ( He sits on its board, and is the chair of the HR sub-committee.

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