Compared with the average monthly salary of 2,500 to 3,000 yuan for Chinese university graduates, the salary of social workers, whose work the government hopes will ease social tension and promote social harmony, is set at around 4,600 yuan per month, reaching up to 72,000 yuan per year in Dongguan.
But despite the growing interest of college students in social work and the relatively high salary of this profession, a Guangdong-based social worker service centre said they still have difficulty finding professional social workers. In Guangzhou alone, the shortfall in social workers will reportedly be 6,000 next year.
“It usually takes two or four years to get a junior-level social work certificate, and many social work graduates don’t want to work in this field,” said Ping Ping, a communications officer at a Guangdong-based non-governmental organisation.
In the last five years or so, the central government has promoted social work services, setting up pilot projects in Guangdong and holding regular seminars and trainings: All this against a background of growing protests against demolition and land seizures across China, as a well as strikes and other labour-related protests.
Government and lottery funding are the two most popular sources of fiscal support for social work services and organizations. In Shenzhen alone, the local government has spent more than 100 million yuan, part of the money from lottery, on social work related positions and projects, said the deputy minister of Ministry of Civil Affairs in an address last year.
Guangdong, the wealthiest province in China but also the region with the biggest number of labour strikes and protests, announced this July that it will boost the number of social workers to around 500,000 by 2015. However, given that the existing number of registered social workers and social work assistants is less than 10,000, scholars are not optimistic this goal can be attained, especially if a high quality of social work is to be maintained.
Professor Joe Leung from the Social Work and Social Administration Department of the University of Hong Kong said the lack of a firm financial commitment will eventually hobble the growth in social service sector:
"The number of new social work jobs created is lower than the qualified workforce. The number of new jobs depends on government financing, and it is still quite limited compared to around 10,000 new social work graduates each year. Whether this new workforce can play a steady role in promoting social harmony depends on the government’s fiscal support. ”
Apart from Guangdong, Hainan, Fujian, Shanghai, Beijing and other economically developed provinces and cities, social work has also been steadily promoted to Qinghai and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region this year, according to China Association of Social Workers.
However, according to Leung, the levels of social services in different regions vary a lot. “In general, social workers in China lack adequate training and supervision.” That is why he said China still relies to some extent on Hong Kong to provide additional training and supervision of social work.
Moreover, there is a worryingly high turnover rate in the industry because of low social recognition, lack of career development opportunities and mental pressure, experts say. It’s not uncommon for people to mistake social workers with home or hospital helpers, which require no professional training or accreditation.