Sunday 16 June 2013

More job vacancies, fewer lost jobs in first quarter of 2013

Retail and food and beverage among sectors especially short of workers
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2013

THE number of job openings rose in the first three months of the year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

But experts said this might be due more to a difficulty in filling vacancies than to a rise in employment demand.

Retail and food and beverage were among the sectors especially short of workers. Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan noted: "Anecdotally, we have heard a lot about such firms having trouble finding people."

Seasonally adjusted job vacancies rose 17 per cent in the first three months, after falling 7 per cent in the previous quarter.

The non-seasonally adjusted figure was 51,100 vacancies.

Amid a tight labour market, fewer workers lost their jobs: 2,120, down from both the quarter before and the year before.

However, employment grew by 28,900 - down from 44,000 in the last quarter of last year and up slightly from 27,200 a year ago.

As previously reported, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up to 1.9 per cent from 1.8 per cent last December.

The unemployment rate for citizens and permanent residents rose to 2.9 per cent from 2.7 per cent previously. Citizen unemployment itself stayed at 2.9 per cent.

Just under half of those laid off in the last quarter of last year found jobs by March, down from 57 per cent of those laid off in the quarter before.

However, long-term unemployment improved slightly. In March, 13,700, or 0.6 per cent, of the resident labour force had been unemployed for at least 25 weeks, down from 14,000 a year ago. Economists expect unemployment to rise slightly in the rest of the year, though the labour market will remain tight. UOB economist Francis Tan expects it to hit 2.2 per cent by the end of the year.

As the mismatch between job seekers and jobs persists, job vacancy numbers will also rise, said Credit Suisse's Mr Wan.

This will be "exacerbated by foreign labour restrictions coming onstream," he added. Higher levies and stricter quotas for foreign workers in the service sector kick in on July 1.

The MOM figures show the most job vacancies for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in public administration and education, with 5,300 vacancies.

Apart from that, the most openings were in areas with a known labour crunch: Front-line roles in retail and food and beverage.

There were 2,600 openings for clerical, sales and service workers in retail, and 2,700 for such workers in food and beverage.

Mr Tan also noted a greater shortage of production and transport operators, cleaners and labourers. There were 15,500 vacancies in this group, up 25 per cent from the year before. In contrast, job vacancies increased by only about 6 per cent for PMETs.

The manufacturing sector, which has 3,900 of these vacancies, is expected to rebound in the second half of the year.

"But the problem is these vacancies now may be a constraint," said Mr Tan. Recruitment and human resources firms, however, were upbeat about the latest figures.

"Demand for professional talent in Singapore remains buoyant, despite broader economic uncertainty," said Mr Michael Smith, Randstad's country director for Singapore.

Adecco's Singapore country manager Femke Hellemons expects strong job growth in IT, engineering, pharmaceuticals, finance and insurance.

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