Wednesday 17 June 2015

Employment falls for first time in six years: MOM report on ​Labour Market, First Quarter 2015

Some 6,100 workers lost in Q1, but unemployment stays near record lows
By Joanna Seow And Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2015

THE job market shed workers for the first time in six years, strangled by a tight foreign worker policy and slow growth.

Employment for the first three months of the year contracted in every sector - manufacturing, services and construction - signalling that segments of the economy may be relying less on labour or not expanding fast enough to demand more workers.

Employment fell by 6,100, as at the end of March, according to the latest official figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), bringing the total number of workers here down to 3,617,800. The last time the economy saw such poor job market performance was in the second quarter of 2009, when 7,700 workers were lost.

But even as employment contracted, unemployment, at 1.8 per cent, stayed near record lows while vacancies remained near all-time highs, said the report released yesterday. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for citizens dipped to 2.6 per cent, or around 50,200 people, compared with 2.7 per cent last December.

Economists said this paradox - shrinking employment in a tight labour market - is partly the result of falling numbers of workers in the economy.

"You can have a job opening but you have to have someone to actually fill the position for employment numbers to go up," said Assistant Professor Walter Theseira of Nanyang Technological University.

DBS economist Irvin Seah also pointed to the restrictive foreign worker policy, noting that it has restrained companies from hiring people they need.

With the economy pushing the limits of labour force participation, it is harder than ever for employers to offer wages or jobs that would attract still more locals to work or look for work. But while this could continue to push wages up and keep unemployment low, economists also warn that, should the trend continue, companies could start to suffer, which could have an impact on growth itself.

The decline in employment was led by the services sector, which saw a 90 per cent drop in the number of additional workers employed, the MOM report said.

Demand for labour also slackened in some industries. Weak output growth in marine and offshore engineering and the completion of chemical maintenance projects resulted in 6,900 fewer people employed in manufacturing in the last quarter.

MOM said apart from industry-specific factors, the contraction "may be reflective of how segments of the economy could be transiting to be less manpower reliant". Economists noted that it was too early to say whether there was cause for alarm.

The report also showed layoffs were slightly lower than in the previous quarter. In the first quarter of the year, 3,500 workers lost their jobs, compared with 3,910 in the fourth quarter of last year. The majority of residents - nearly three in four - laid off were professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

SIM University economist and Nominated MP Randolph Tan said that the labour market is adjusting, with employers being more discerning about who they hire.

"Any worker they hire from now on must be assessed on how much they contribute to the bottom line," he said.

The labour market remained tight in the first quarter of 2015, as the unemployment rate trended lower amid fewer...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fewer jobs because firms relying on fewer workers
Stricter foreign labour rules make companies change way they work
By Joanna Seow And Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2015

THE tight foreign worker policy may finally be working through the wider economy, with companies relying less on labour and changing the way they do business.

Bosses told The Straits Times that the lack of manpower means they are having trouble filling vacancies and cannot take on new contracts. Others have restructured some processes in order to manage.

This struggle was borne out in Monday's labour market report, which showed that total employment in Singapore shrank by 6,100 in the first three months of the year.

This was the first time the job market contracted since 2009, according to the Manpower Ministry.

Besides slowing growth in the local labour force, economists pointed to the tightness in foreign workforce policy as a possible reason for the fall in total employment.

The Government tightened policies on foreign workers from 2010, with the goal of weaning companies off the supply of cheap foreign labour.

The signs have been encouraging. Last year, annual growth in foreign employment moderated to 2.4 per cent, down from 4.6 per cent in 2013 and 6.8 per cent in 2012.

"If employment continues to contract and the economy is still growing, productivity growth may turn positive," said Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Koh Juan Kiat.

"It may also reduce our reliance on foreign workers."

Employers said they are facing stiff competition for foreign staff.

"It's taking a longer time to fill vacancies," said Ms Serene Tan, director of department store chain BHG. For example, she said, information technology staff and managerial level roles take up to six months to fill, compared with two to three months in the past.

But vacancies, which fell slightly in the first quarter of the year from a record high, could slip further as companies change their hiring patterns.

"Businesses are pacing themselves for the medium to long term," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee, adding that he had seen a slowdown in the number of jobs offered in the last two or three months.

Bosses also reported being unable to take on new business.

At Tian San Shipping, which has cut foreign hires by about 70 since 2009, senior manager of operations Chin Tze Chung said: "We can't even undertake some tenders because we don't have the manpower."

Some smaller companies, such as subcontractors in the construction industry, close down when they are unable to fulfill their existing contracts.

Others are considering moving operations to other countries where labour is more accessible.

Mr Kelvin Ho, managing director of freight forwarding firm Intercontinental Logistics, said a lack of foreign labour is forcing out many of the factories he relies on for business.

"If factories are not coming to Singapore, we might as well close down," he said, adding that he is considering moving the company to somewhere like Jakarta or Vietnam, where hiring would be easier.

A tightening labour market has made it harder for employers trying to solve manpower issues. But these five positions...
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, June 22, 2015

These are the 5 hardest positions to fill in Singapore, survey finds
By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2015

Global workforce expert ManpowerGroup says it has identified the top five positions that are toughest to fill in Singapore.

They are accounting and finance talent; sales representatives; engineers; secretaries (including receptionists and administrative assistants); and, marketing, public relations and communications specialists.

In a report on Monday, Ms Linda Teo, ManpowerGroup Singapore's country manager, said that of the 234 respondents here to its 2015 Talent Shortage Survey, 40 per cent of them say they find it hard to fill those five positions.

She attributed the shortage to "widespread restructuring that is sending tremors across sectors, with shocks being added from a tightening labour market".

Globally, the top five talents that are hardest to find are skilled trade positions (especially chefs, bakers, butchers, mechanics and electricians), sales representatives, engineers (mechanical, electrical and civil), technicians and drivers (particularly of heavy vehicles), the survey found.

Manpower Group questioned 41,700 hiring managers in 42 countries and territories for this 10th annual survey.

It found the proportion of global employers reporting talent shortages hit a record high of 38 per cent since 2007, with Japan employers topping the list at 83 per cent. In 2007, the difficulty level was 41 per cent.

However, more than 20 per cent of employers were still not pursuing any strategy to overcome these challenges, said the firm.

"Employers do not seem to show an urgency to put into place strategies not just to tackle the talent shortage but to stay ahead of the curve to find individuals to meet their business needs, said Ms Teo.

"Today, merely recruiting and placing candidates will not yield results. Employers need to encourage a learning culture among their employees and to get them to chart their own careers."

Employers also need to explore untapped talent pools such as youth and older workers, and look to enhancing benefits, she said.

On the flipside, a global career survey of employees released in April, sheds light on talent shortage from the other side of the fence.

Findings from the Global Career Aspiration Survey by Right Management, the global career experts within Manpower Group, signal a disconnect between employee aspirations and the performance demands of employers worldwide.

The survey found that only one in 10 of employees define career success as high performance and productivity. Further, 45 per cent of respondents rank work-life balance as their No.1 career aspiration, and the top definition of workplace success was enjoyment and happiness.

Said Ms Teo: "Understanding employee career motivations and aspirations are key to creating a high performance culture that motivates individuals to do their best work.

"When people have ongoing career conversations with their managers, they experience effective career development and are more likely to be engaged, motivated and ready to take on new challenges."

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