DESPITE holding a degree in life sciences from the National University of Singapore, Mr Clement Cheong knew that his true calling in life did not involve donning a lab coat.

He yearned instead for a job that would allow him to directly touch the lives of people and their loved ones.

That is why a career in social work appealed to him.

The problem was, he had no idea how to go about becoming a social worker.


Seeking to learn the right skills

Although Mr Cheong, 32, had the personality and qualities to become a social worker, he lacked the necessary skills — and he knew it.

Then in 2010, he saw a newspaper advertisement for the Skills Training for Excellence Programme (STEP), a skills upgrading initiative targeted at professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

It was a watershed moment for Mr Cheong. No longer was he unsure of the steps he needed to take to make social work a career.

Embracing skills upgrading via Continuing Education and Training (CET) was the key.

The CET scheme allows PMEs as well as rank-and-file workers to upgrade their skills by acquiring knowledge and expertise needed by employers at the workplace.

Doing so will allow them to stay relevant and seize new job opportunities amid a fast-changing business landscape.

STEP — introduced by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Ministry of Manpower — allows PMEs to acquire skills for furthering their existing careers, or switching to new ones.

WDA offers a range of STEP programmes tailored to the CET needs of various industries, one of which is social work.


A STEP in the right direction

With unequivocal support from family and friends, Mr Cheong signed up for the Graduate Diploma in Social Work conducted by UniSIM.

It was a challenge to study part-time while working full-time at the Whispering Hearts Family Service Centre, a job he found through the WDA’s Professional Conversion Programme for Social Workers.

He approached his hectic schedule with a positive attitude and great determination because he knew that CET would allow him to upgrade his skills and realise his career aspirations.

He carried this positive outlook into his job and was put on the frontline — meeting families — as part of his on-the-job training.

Despite his lack of theoretical knowledge, he learnt the ropes quickly and thoroughly, thanks to his desire to succeed and the valuable assistance he garnered from supportive colleagues. 

Last year, his efforts paid off and Mr Cheong attained his Graduate Diploma in Social Work.

He is still working at the Whispering Hearts Family Service Centre and intends to further his CET journey to deepen his knowledge. He is also exploring other social-work-related courses.

Reflecting on his decision to pursue a career in social work, Mr Cheong says it heartens him to be able to improve the lives of the people he serves.


Article by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. For more information on STEP, visit