SOCIAL workers will soon have clear and uniform benchmarks to guide them in upgrading their skills, and to help them get higher positions and pay.

Identifying the specific skills needed at each career level will lay the foundation for job assessment, and salary and career progression, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) told The Straits Times.

The National Social Work Competency Framework, developed by NCSS, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Health Ministry, will be launched next year.

Industry players say this is aimed at easing the social service sector's longstanding problems of staff leaving due to low pay, limited career progression and the lack of a structured career pathway.

Singapore has 1,400 registered social workers and social service practitioners now. Excluding those needed to replace staff who leave, about 150 more workers are required each year to meet the needs of the growing and greying population.

Similar benchmarks are being developed for other sectors, in line with recommendations by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review committee to boost job prospects of Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic students. The review is part of a national effort to develop a workforce with skills that are more relevant to industry needs.

The benchmarks for "priority sectors" will be developed by the new SkillsFuture Council led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, which has been set up to drive programmes to develop specialised skills in workers.

The standards will be sector- specific, so employers can reward workers based on defined skills which they have achieved.

In early childhood education, for instance, a junior nursery teacher should be able to set up conducive learning environments. At the mid-career level, he would be expected to customise learning to children's needs. To rise higher, he should be able to assess the efficacy of the learning environments and resources.

The social work framework is not among those to be rolled out by the SkillsFuture Council, but is expected to work similarly. Details on skills required for various career levels will be released later.

NCSS said: "Social workers will find the framework useful for upgrading purposes as it provides better clarity on the knowledge and skills required for their professional development and career progression."

The framework will also guide the Social Service Institute, the main social service training ground, in developing training programmes to equip workers with the necessary skills.

The framework will also help employers. Mr Abhimanyau Pal, executive director of SPD, which represents those with disabilities, said: "Such a framework will provide a guide in setting fairer remuneration and the skills requirement at every job level, which will help employers to attract and retain good social workers."

Ms Ong Pei Ni, 31, centre head at Sengkang Family Service Centre, said the road map will enable more social workers to move between fields and organisations and help retain them in the sector.

"Right now, there are different benchmarks for everyone, depending on the practice fields and setting they are in," she said.

"This makes them think twice about moving elsewhere to gain exposure because they have to start from scratch. So hopefully, the framework will allow for more fluid career paths by spelling out what is expected."