Thursday 29 January 2015

Vacancies rise as locals spurn low-paying jobs

By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2015

LOW pay and a long work week, with shift hours to boot.

These are the main reasons why Singaporeans are not filling a rising number of job vacancies here.

The number of vacancies climbed 8.9 per cent to 67,400 in September last year, the highest in six years, according to a Manpower Ministry (MOM) report released yesterday.

Across occupations, sales assistants, security guards, waiters and office cleaners were the most sought after, accounting for 10,030 openings.

These were also the jobs which had the most vacancies that employers struggled to fill with citizens and permanent residents.

Among the top reasons cited by the MOM for the high numbers of vacancies: unattractive pay, a long work week and physically tough work.

For instance, for shop sales assistant positions, which had 3,730 vacancies, the median pay was just $1,741. Employers also struggled to hire security guards, a job for which the median pay was just $1,678.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted: "There's very low incentive for Singaporeans to work in those sectors because they can get better pay doing something else."

Four in five vacancies last year were in the services industry, especially community, social and personal services. This reflected "the expansion of childcare and pre-schools, health care and tertiary institutes", said the MOM.

New malls also boosted hiring in wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food services, and administrative and support services, said the ministry.

Another reason for the climb in vacancies is that companies are unable to get foreign workers to fill the gap, said Singapore Retailers Association vice-president R. Dhinakaran.

"Companies are adjusting to the quota. They're still losing workers whose contracts have expired," said Mr Dhinakaran.

The problem is exacerbated by the constant churn in the industry, with workers jumping for small pay rises, said recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore's country manager Linda Teo.

"Employers end up poaching each other's employees in order to meet their respective manpower requirements, a vicious circle unless the supply of qualified manpower increases," she said.

The MOM report also showed that the biggest surge in vacancies was for associate professionals and technicians, including registered nurses and enrolled or assistant nurses.

This group saw 2,450 more vacancies last year than in the year before.

But the shortage should start to ease as the economy continues to cool, reducing demand for workers, said economists.

Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho said: "As the property cycle starts to weaken further and tourism grows less quickly than last year, we can expect some moderation of the tightness in the services economy."

Nursing vacancies among hardest to fill by S’poreans: Report
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 28 Jan 2015

While there were openings across all sectors, nursing was one of the professions where talent was highly sought after but unpopular among Singaporeans, the Ministry of Manpower’s latest annual report on job vacancies showed.

In fact, as at September last year, the number of vacancies for Registered Nurse (660) and Enrolled/Assistant Nurse (590) that were unfilled for at least six months were the highest among PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) jobs. These two posts also had the highest incidences of vacancies among PMET jobs that employers reported were hard to fill by Singaporeans.

The MOM report, which was released yesterday, said that unattractive pay and a preference not to do shift work were among the reasons Singaporeans shunned nursing jobs. Currently, there are about 36,000 skilled nurses in the healthcare system. In August last year, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced a slew of changes to make the profession more attractive, including higher pay, more opportunities for professional development and greater authority to make decisions.

Tanjong Pagar GRC Member of Parliament Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committees for Health, noted that some nursing positions are put up in advance. For instance, the planning for a new hospital’s manpower needs is done two to four years ahead of time. “We actually put (the hired nurses) in other hospitals while waiting for the new hospitals to come up,” said Dr Chia, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital. The Government had previously announced plans to build two acute hospitals, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital, and four community hospitals by 2020. The Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, for example, will open in Jurong East by July.

Dr Chia acknowledged that hospitals have difficulties in filling nursing positions. Citing the high turnover rate and the setting up of more hospitals and clinics, he added that demand for nurses remain high even though the supply has been increased. One way to improve the situation is through redesigning the job, such as expanding the role of the nurse, and using technology to make the work more efficient, Dr Chia said.

Empty tables? Sorry, restaurant is 'full'
Eateries are turning away diners at times due to growing labour crunch
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2015

THE restaurant may have been busy, but Mr Leonard Cheong and his two friends were confident of getting seats when they arrived for a Saturday brunch at Orchard fusion restaurant Kilo.

"We could see empty tables right in front of us, but the service staff told us we couldn't sit there," said the 31-year-old marketing manager. "It was frustrating."

The trio were told by staff at the Japanese-Italian eatery that they would have to dine elsewhere as the restaurant was too short on manpower to serve them.

It is a story that is becoming increasingly familiar here at restaurants, which are being forced to turn away customers as they scramble to maintain service levels amid the labour crunch.

Kilo manager Rubi Pandey told The Straits Times that the eatery has to turn customers away around twice a month, as it does not want to offer them a "half-hearted experience". She said: "We try not to do it. But the restaurant has to keep running and we manage the best we can."

Most restaurants say they do it on an ad hoc basis, such as when a chef goes on medical leave or when a waiter quits.

Old Hong Kong Kitchen in Novena turns away diners at least once a week. It even started a home delivery service six months ago to cut demand for staff.

"When a staff member doesn't show up for work, we do it. We have no choice," said owner Victoria Li, who is then forced to make 10 of her 24 tables at the Chinese restaurant off-limits. This means estimated losses of about 70 customers and $2,000 in revenue each time. She currently has 25 staff - but needs twice that number to operate smoothly.

Diners are also being turned away at Relish, Wild Rocket and Wild Oats - restaurants owned by chef Willin Low.

"Managers all have the authority to tell customers, at any one point, that we are full - even though we are not - because we have no manpower."

Mr Low estimates that he loses 20 per cent of business each time this happens. "We are so short," he admitted. "Once one person is missing, it's like a quarter of our workforce is gone."

It is the same story at Fika Swedish Cafe and Bistro when its part-timers go back to school or someone quits. "Singaporeans can be quite particular and we don't want to run the risk of the customer having a bad experience," said owner Tasneem Noor, who faces this problem once a month at her three outlets.

Tim Palace in Toa Payoh and Next Door Deli in Ang Mo Kio also resort to such measures.

Job vacancies in the food and beverage service sector stood at 6,400 at the end of last September, up from 4,200 three years earlier, latest Ministry of Manpower statistics show.

The Straits Times understands that the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) met Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) officials on Jan 20 to discuss rising business and manpower costs, in addition to the labour crunch.

Turning customers away, said RAS president Andrew Tjioe, is "an acute measure that no one would adopt unless there was no other way".

"It's becoming more widespread now, but it started when the manpower crunch became bad. Restaurants are forced to do this. It's a pity, saying 'no' to business," he said.

Mr Tjioe advised restaurants against closing off sections that are visible to customers.

But for Mr Cheong, the damage has been done. "It shouldn't be a customer's problem. We went all the way to the restaurant. We felt really slighted that it didn't want our business," he said. "It left a really bad impression."

Take pride in F&B work

THE article ("Empty tables? Sorry, restaurant is 'full' "; Tuesday) reported on eateries turning away diners because of the growing labour crunch.

Previously, I worked as a sales manager for a few food suppliers, and my former customers included restaurants, hotels, cafes and even foodcourt stalls. Their staff shared with me grievances that included their difficulty in hiring front- and back-end workers.

Many resorted to hiring housewives and tertiary students as part-time workers. A few restaurants turned to institutions such as Shatec to arrange working attachments for their students.

The long working hours, poor staff benefits and low wages made it difficult to attract locals to the food and beverage industry.

Singaporeans also tend to look down on jobs in this sector, and parents discourage their children from taking up such work.

We should change our mindsets and be proud of our waiters, cooks, cashiers and foodstall helpers. We should not look down on any work, as long as one is able to make an honest living out of it.

Muhammad Dzul Azhan Haji Sahban
ST Forum, 29 Jan 2015

Architecture profession facing same problem

THE architecture profession empathises with the dilemma faced by eateries due to the labour crunch ("Empty tables? Sorry, restaurant is 'full' "; Tuesday).

The Building and Construction Authority projected that the value of construction deals here will reach $29 billion to $36 billion this year, following an exceptionally strong performance last year.

There is record construction demand, yet available manpower is at its lowest, caused by the strict hiring quotas on foreign architectural technicians imposed by the authorities.

The industry is stretched to its limit as the supply of such technicians among locals and permanent residents (PRs) is almost non-existent. It is interesting to note that, unlike the banking and IT sectors, no local or PR jobs have been compromised on account of foreign staff in the architecture profession.

This is because our profession has been experiencing extreme difficulty in recruiting locals as the available numbers are insufficient to meet demand, even before the labour crunch.

While it is possible for other sectors in the construction industry to adopt new technologies to raise productivity, the work of architects cannot be done by a tablet PC or an app.

Architecture is about lovingly crafting and designing buildings and ensuring they comply fully with the myriad of statutory requirements, for the safety and well-being of the public.

To maintain quality amid the labour crunch, many practices have been forced to turn away work. This is a chronic problem and a wasted opportunity to explore architectural innovations and enhancements.

To circumvent this, some firms have set up production offices overseas, resulting in a brain drain and resources being spent overseas instead of locally for the country's benefit.

Unless something is done to review the quota on foreign hires in our profession and other industries where the local workforce is virtually non-existent, delays in delivery, growth retardation and, possibly, closure of businesses will be inevitable.

Theodore Chan
Singapore Institute of Architects
ST Forum, 29 Jan 2015

Jobless rates stay low but a bumpier road ahead
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2015

THE labour market remained tight last year but signs are emerging that the situation could soon turn gloomy.

Unemployment rates remained low last year, but an increase in retrenchments and a slower wage growth are worrying signs that economic restructuring will continue to bite.

The number of jobs created in the last three months of the year rose to 39,600, up from 33,400 in the previous quarter, according to preliminary figures in a Ministry of Manpower report released yesterday.

Overall, the economy created 129,000 jobs last year, slightly lower than the 136,200 in 2013. The overall unemployment rate was 2 per cent, compared with 1.9 per cent in 2013, while the resident unemployment rate was 2.7 per cent, down from 2.8 per cent in the preceding year.

The numbers painted a picture of a labour market that remained healthy but economists warned that the situation could get worse this year.

Layoffs are on the rise, with 3,800 staff let go in the fourth quarter of last year, up from 3,500 in the previous quarter.

About 12,800 lost their jobs in the whole of last year, up from 11,560 in 2013.

Real median income grew by 1.4 per cent last year, lower than the 4.6 per cent in 2013.

Over the past five years, real median income for residents, after adjusting for inflation, has grown 11 per cent, or about 2.1 per cent a year.

The tight labour market is making firms think twice about expansion and could be contributing to the higher retrenchment rates, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin.

"Some firms may be forced to retrench staff or scale back (expansion plans) if they cannot meet the foreign worker limits."

Businesses are also expected to remain cautious about expanding due to a weaker global economic outlook, arising from volatility in the currency markets as well as slower growth in China.

OCBC economist Selena Ling said retrenchments can also be expected from firms which cannot cope with the ongoing productivity drive. "Some companies may have to shut down or move to cheaper locations," she added.

Efforts by the Government to encourage workers to upgrade their skills and become productive appear to be bearing fruit.

Training participation rate among residents aged 15 to 64 rose to a new high of 36 per cent last year.

No comments:

Post a Comment