Less than 10 percent of social workers are adequately trained, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) across 41 cities and provinces.

The survey, which collected information from over 60,000 people engaged in social work, also revealed that nearly half of them were trained workers, of which 19 per cent had received professional training in related areas such as sociology or psychology.

The survey comes as demand for social workers has surged with a dramatic shortage of workers in the field.

Nguyen Van Hoi, deputy head of the Department for Social Protection, told Giao duc va Thoi dai (Education and Times) newspaper that approximately 40 percent of the Vietnamese population needed social work services.

These people include 7.5 million elderly people, 5.4 million disabled people, 1.4 million underprivileged children, 180,000 people living with HIV and nearly 200,000 drug addicts, he said.

According to MOLISA, only 32 out of the 63 provinces and cities nationwide had social work centres, with the country planning to roll out more centres in remaining localities by 2015.

Pham Thi Thanh Tam, director of REACH centre, a local non-government organisation specialising in development activities, said none of the centre's staff had professional qualifications in social work.

She said the centre had had to organise internal training programmes for their employees, realising the lack of prior knowledge among its staff.

A lack of understanding of professional qualifications in specific fields made it difficult to recruit qualified social workers.

Tam urged that more schools specialising in social work training be set up, and said that more educational institutes needed to establish programmes to fill the skills shortage, adding that social workers could develop valuable knowledge on community development and project management skills.

Perception problem

Despite the fact that the demand for social workers has remained high, students trained in social services have shown little interest in actually pursuing careers in the field.

One of the reasons, according to Do Bich Thao, lecturer of the Faculty of Social Work at Hanoi National University of Education, is that students whose majors are related to social situations are taught to attain general knowledge about social work rather than to really apply what they learn to practical situations.

"There are still some shortcomings in social work training created by theory-oriented curriculums, a shortage of lecturers with practical experience and limited opportunities for applying knowledge," she added.

Additionally, students with relevant majors deliberately chose other careers with higher levels of perceived prestige. Experts say that this can be traced back to the lack of community understanding towards social work.

"Many people still do not know that social workers do. Some even think they do charity work," said Vu Thi Kim Dung, head of the Social Work Faculty at Hanoi National University of Education.

Presently, there is no specific agency responsible for issuing certificates and organising certificate tests for social workers.

Le Chi An, a lecturer from the Ho Chi Minh City Open University suggested an association for social workers was needed to provide practical experience for those who wanted to devote their career to social work.-VNA