Saturday 30 January 2016

Labour Market 2015: Job growth hits 17-year low, but real wages up 7%

Tight labour market and low unemployment push up median incomes, says MOM
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

Faced with slowdowns in global demand and local labour supply, Singapore saw local employment grow at its slowest pace last year since 1998 amid the Asian financial crisis.

The expansion almost came to a halt. Just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs at the end of last year compared with the year before, although unemployment remained low, said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday.

But citizens who were in jobs enjoyed higher pay, as the labour market tightness and manpower shortages in some industries helped push up median incomes last year.

Median income, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, for Singaporeans working full-time grew 6.5 per cent from June 2014 to June last year to reach $3,798. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

Overall, employment grew by 31,800, the slowest pace in 12 years. This brought the total number of people in jobs here to 3,655,600 as of last month, based on preliminary labour market data for last year.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said the sharper slowdown in local employment growth is probably because residents tend to be in white collar jobs, which are more vulnerable to external shocks than the foreigner-heavy blue collar jobs.

But most of those who wanted to work were able to - the overall unemployment rate remained low at 1.9 per cent last year, down from 2 per cent in 2014. That for citizens was unchanged at 2.9 per cent.

That is why Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the situation now is very different from 2009, when a drop in employment growth was accompanied by a sharp uptick in unemployment due to a lack of jobs. "I don't call it a downturn yet... One thing is certain, as we go through this period of uncertainty, we must come out to be more manpower-lean; we must come out to be more productive."

Manufacturing shed workers for a second year running, ending with 22,400 fewer workers than it started with. Its output was 5.2 per cent lower last year than in 2014.

More workers lost their jobs last year, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors, which saw 5,000 and 7,800 redundancies respectively. A total of 14,400 workers were let go last year, up from 12,930 in 2014, continuing a steady rise since 2010.

Meanwhile, over the past five years, real income growth at both the middle and bottom 20 per cent of the wage ladder kept pace with each other, growing by an average of 3 per cent and 2.9 per cent per year respectively.

The healthy income growth and low unemployment suggest the labour market has yet to react to economic weaknesses, said SIM University economist Randolph Tan. "We may have to brace ourselves... Income growth slowing and unemployment rising would be hard to handle in our current situation when we're still going through restructuring."

Labour market 'in period of slower growth'
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

The labour market is entering a period of slower growth, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday.

The decline will likely continue, and employment growth may even reach "negligible" levels, he said.

His comments came after preliminary statistics showed that just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs last year compared with 2014. It was the lowest local employment growth since 1998 amid the Asian financial crisis.

Overall, employment grew by just 31,800 last year, the slowest pace in 12 years. "We are entering into a period of uncertainty," said a sombre Mr Lim at a media briefing.

He acknowledged that the slowing employment growth can be a bottleneck to economic growth, but added that firms have to learn to cope with this.

Citing the hotel sector as an example, Mr Lim said there are 20 per cent to 25 per cent more hotel rooms being built. "But we cannot support that growth by taking on 20 to 25 per cent more workers."

Some belt tightening is inevitable and companies have to reduce their reliance on workers by raising productivity.

To drive home the point, an animated Mr Lim pointed to his own belt and said: "If I keep tightening my belt... will my belt become a bottleneck? It depends on whether I become slimmer."

Foreign manpower growth will be capped at around 2 per cent while local manpower growth - estimated to be about 1 per cent annually until 2020 - will come from attracting and keeping more locals in the workforce, Mr Lim said.

The labour force participation rate for Singaporeans and PRs was 68.3 per cent last year, rising from 65 per cent in 2006. "There is still scope for the labour force participation rate to go up," said Mr Lim.

The steps include attracting women back to the workforce and raising the re-employment age for older workers to 67.

Mr Lim said that there is near full employment and workers will continue to benefit from the tight labour market. "People who want to work are still able to get jobs," he noted. "And salaries are up."

MOM published the Labour Market Advance Release 2015 today. Here are 6 key findings from the report:1. Median income...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Thursday, January 28, 2016

Local workers, note where the job compass is pointing
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

If the pulse of the labour market is a sign of economic health, the latest employment numbers hint that the economy is catching a cold.

The number of locals in jobs last year increased by just 100, near zero growth. It is the worst showing since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Even during the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, more locals landed jobs then, than last year.

And almost all the employment growth last year - 31,800 more workers were in jobs - came from foreign workers.

Before citizens cry foul, it is not as if their bosses are ditching them for foreigners. More locals are not being hired for the simple reason that most of them are already holding jobs. The citizen unemployment rate was a low 3 per cent last month. The local labour pool is nearing its limits and salaries are rising in the tight labour market.

The median income from full-time work for citizens rose from $3,566 in 2014 to $3,798 last year, a 7 per cent increase in real terms.

"This is a good sign and largely due to the fact that Singapore is moving towards a knowledge-based economy with more citizens securing white-collar, higher-paying jobs," said Mr Foo See Yang, vice-president and country general manager of headhunter Kelly Services Singapore.

The picture is upbeat for fresh graduates too.

The latest graduate employment survey released this month showed that 88.9 per cent of fresh polytechnic graduates landed jobs within six months of graduating. Their $2,100 median monthly salary was 5 per cent higher than the $2,000 in 2014.

There is no immediate danger of locals losing their jobs or their salaries plummeting. But some sectors are clearly downbeat and one must watch out for ripple effects in the future.

Take manufacturing for instance. In the span of one year, it employed 22,400 fewer workers.

Four sectors saw declines in local employment - retail trading, manufacturing, real estate and wholesale trading. In contrast, more locals were hired in the financial, insurance, professional services and community sectors.

Job seekers ought to take note of where the compass is pointing.

For now, the labour market will continue to be buffeted by the sluggish global economy and the slowing economic growth. While there is still demand for workers - a sign that the economy is still growing, although slowly - the demand can easily dissipate in a downturn.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) walks a tightrope to strike a balance between local and foreign worker numbers. Foreign employment growth numbers are a bit of a red herring - their numbers are solely determined by the ministry approving the work pass applications, not market forces.

But it is clear that the MOM will continue to tighten the tap on the inflow of foreign workers.

This means that lifting the productivity of local workers will have to remain the highest priority.

If the economy cannot find more workers and productivity does not rise, economic growth will have to take a hit. Then, the rising wages may become unsustainable and even jobs can get lost.

When asked to comment on the employment numbers, the straight-talking National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said: "We need to speed up upgrading and skills training as quickly as possible to ensure workers remain relevant and stay employable when the economy transforms."

Her words ought to be heeded before the headwinds slow or even sink the boat and bring the labour market tumbling down.

Hiring expected to stay weak this year
Experts not surprised by stagnation in local job growth and urge firms to explore more flexible hiring strategies
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

The flatlining of local job growth came as little surprise to industry experts who say it was long in the making and expect the year ahead to be marked by weaker hiring.

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief executive Ho Meng Kit attributed the dismal growth of local employment to a drop in demand and restrictive labour policies.

He said the situation is unlikely to improve this year. "All our recent surveys of companies showed that hiring expectations for 2016 are weak.

"Unemployment will creep up as demand continues to drop, if labour costs are not managed."

OCBC economist Selena Ling warned that local job creation could remain subdued.

"We cannot fully discount the possibility of a quarter or two where it dips into negative territory," she said, adding that she expects more restrained, nominal wage growth as well.

Others, such as Randstad country director Jaya Dass, do not expect local employment to stagnate for long. She said the rise in median incomes indicates employer confidence in the market and underlines the importance of offering higher salaries to retain talent.

DBS economist Irvin Seah cautioned, however: "Rising wages are a double-edged sword. It means higher incomes for workers, but higher costs for businesses. And if businesses can't operate profitably, they may consider closing, and workers lose jobs."

Industry experts suggested that companies explore more flexible hiring strategies, while workers should be more proactive in taking advantage of training opportunities and government initiatives such as SkillsFuture Credit.

Kelly Services vice-president and country general manager Foo See Yang observed that more companies were hiring contractors and freelancers, even at managerial levels and beyond.

"By having an optimal mix of permanent and contract talent across the ranks, companies can stay flexible and nimble in an uncertain economic period," he advised.

SBF's Mr Ho called for more accommodating foreign labour policies in the near term, but observed that fewer firms were relying on such measures and choosing to re-examine their business models instead. "We should feed this transformation," he said.

The gloomy outlook has companies on edge, as employers opt to restructure their businesses instead of filling vacancies.

Mr Ken Koh, managing director of logistics firm Yang Kee, said it has been raising staff wages to encourage higher productivity, as well as investing in warehouse automation, such as conveyor systems, to reduce manpower costs.

Mr Chan Chong Beng, chairman of interior furnishing firm Goodrich Global, said: "Last time whenever there were resignations, we used to look for replacements first. Now we look at how to change our processes and trim wastage."

Mr Chan, who also chairs the Workforce Advancement Federation, added: "Even if you could get Singaporeans to come in, they don't stay long. I hope this news about the market makes job-hoppers think twice."

Additional reporting by Joanna Seow and Toh Yong Chuan

Key findings from the “Job Vacancies 2015” report released today showed that job vacancies declined over the year in...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Tuesday, February 2, 2016

4 in 10 job vacancies last year for PMET posts
Such jobs get taken fast but those in security, service, sales and cleaning find few takers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

Professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) jobs accounted for a big chunk of vacancies last year, but they also tended to get snapped up quickly, according to a Manpower Ministry (MOM) report released yesterday.

In contrast, positions such as security guards, waiters, retail shop assistants and cleaners were much harder to fill. There were no takers for almost 5,000 of such openings, even after six months.

In all, companies reported 60,000 vacancies in September last year, down 11 per cent from 67,400 vacancies a year before. There were 116 vacancies for every 100 jobseekers, down from 141 in September 2014. The decline in the number of vacancies was brought about by softer economic conditions, the MOM said.

Almost 23,220 vacancies, or four in 10 vacancies, were for PMET jobs such as training professionals, management executives and software developers. But only two in 10 PMET openings remained unfilled over an extended period. The report did not spell out the number of PMET vacancies for 2014.

There were fewer vacancies - 12,270 - for service and sales workers such as waiters, security guards and shop assistants, but almost four in 10 of these were not filled for six months or more. Unattractive pay was the top reason why locals shunned such jobs.

For instance, there were 2,010 vacancies for security guards but 1,440 stayed unfilled after six months. The median gross monthly pay was just $1,749 while the hours were long and the job involved shift work.

For PMET jobs, the biggest hurdle was the lack of necessary experience.

The latest job statistics showed that more can be done to match workers to jobs, according to Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

"There are still jobs for the jobseekers," said Mr Lim during a company visit yesterday. "Job vacancies in Singapore, on the whole, are still healthy."

He said that the MOM will step up its efforts, such as through the SkillsFuture programme, to help jobseekers gain the skills and experience required for PMET jobs.

The tight labour market, with more jobs than jobseekers, will continue to put pressure on wages, recruitment firms said.

The median income for Singaporeans working full-time, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, grew 6.5 per cent from $3,566 in 2014 to $3,798 last year. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

But the strong wage increase last year is unlikely to be repeated this year, said ManpowerGroup's Singapore country manager Linda Teo, citing slower growth, the weak Chinese economy and falling oil prices as reasons. "The mood is cautious as companies deliberate on hiring and hold back these (salary) budgets," she said.

Mismatch between vacancies and jobs sought worries experts
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

The jobs are there, and so are the workers - but some of the latter just want no part of the former.

A Manpower Ministry report out yesterday showed job vacancies fell by 7,400 last September from the same month the year before.

Industry experts, however, are not too concerned about the decline, which they predict will continue into this year. Rather, what has them worried is the fundamental mismatch that persists between the kinds of jobs workers want and the kinds that employers struggle to fill - those with long shifts, odd hours and lower pay, such as security guards, waiters and shop assistants.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said of the fall in vacancies: "It is not worrying for now because job vacancies still exceed the number of unemployed persons."

He also observed that prior to September 2013, job vacancies were lower than the 60,000 that they fell to last September. "The latest number is just moderating from a high base over the last two years.

"For labour-intensive jobs, there is a mismatch as locals shun these. Companies will have to review their value chain of activities, undertake process and job re-design, and pay more for better-skilled workers. To continue relying on foreign workers to fill these jobs is not a sustainable, long-term solution."

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira said the aggregate number of vacancies meant little to a job seeker. "The issue here is not the number, it is that people want vacancies in the job that they desire. That's what matters to them."

According to the ministry's report, waiters and security guards topped the charts as the professions with the most vacancies - with more than 1,400 positions for each not filled for at least six months.

Meanwhile, roles for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), chief among them teaching professionals and management executives, made up four in 10 of job vacancies.

To fill these roles, Kelly Services Singapore vice-president and country general manager Foo See Yang suggested that firms contemplate more flexible workplaces with well-developed social media recruitment platforms. He said: "Workplace flexibility is an important factor for Gen Y, the predominant age group who would be considering these junior PMET roles. Companies can consider redesigning the work scope and offering contract positions to give these candidates the opportunity to try different roles and have varied experiences."

As for non-PMET roles, some companies are turning to a blend of technology and higher wages to attract and retain staff.

Security firm Soverus, a subsidiary of Secura Group, has cut down its manpower needs by 10 per cent since 2011 by implementing technology such as remote streaming closed-circuit television, video analytics and electronic log books that replace the need for guards to manually take down visitor details.

Secura chief executive Paul Lim said it was also important to increase salaries. "We raise wages by at least 10 to 15 per cent yearly for every security officer," he said.

Other employers said, however, that technology could only go so far. Chef Willin Low, who owns four restaurants including the upmarket Wild Rocket, said robot chefs - like the ones in a new Shanghai ramen shop - were all very well, but restaurants like his need the human touch. "All our expansion plans have been thwarted for the past two years because of manpower," he said. "Nobody wants to work in restaurants because of the irregular hours. I'm at my wits' end."

It's not all rosy for job seekers
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

The Ministry of Manpower said on Thursday that four in 10 job vacancies are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). It went on to say that there were 116 positions for every 100 job seekers last year.

Just last week, it was revealed that, in real terms, citizens saw their median income from work jumped by 7 per cent last year.

Higher salaries, more jobs than job seekers, a choice of professional positions - workers ought to have much to cheer about.

But wait. The picture is not all that rosy, in at least three ways.

First, these were last year's numbers - the median income was captured in June and the vacancies in September. They do not reflect the current downbeat economic mood with the stock market slump since last month.

Second, PMET jobs making up four in 10 vacancies last year is nothing to shout about. Half of working Singaporeans were already in PMET jobs. This means the proportion of vacancies in such jobs is less than the proportion of Singaporeans employed in them. In fact, vacancies for PMET posts, relative to takers, are also shrinking, and could erode the bargaining power of white-collar workers.

Third, the labour market is splitting into two clear tracks. There are more than 16,400 jobs for positions such as guards, waiters, cleaners and shop sales assistants that have few takers. There are also 4,800 well-paid PMET jobs for positions such as restaurant managers and sales executives unfilled because prospects lacked skills or experience.

This mismatch can widen.

For now, Singaporeans will benefit from the tight labour market. But the tide can easily turn.

Headhunters are warning of slower wage growth this year.

Yesterday's rosy picture cannot lull us into thinking that salaries will keep rising and jobs will continue to outnumber job seekers.

* Labour Market 2015 report

More lost their jobs last year but unemployment still low
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2016

In what could be a sign of worse things to come, more workers lost their jobs last year amid weaker economic conditions, although unemployment remained low.

A total of 15,580 workers were laid off last year, the fifth year in a row that redundancies rose, full-year official data released by the Ministry of Manpower yesterday showed.

Last year's number climbed 20 per cent from 12,930 in 2014 and was the highest since the 2009 global financial crisis, which saw 23,430 workers laid off.

Job vacancies also fell to 53,700 as of December after accounting for seasonal variation, down 18 per cent from 65,500 a year earlier.

The trend could continue.

"Amid the cyclical weakness and as the economy restructures, some consolidation and exit of businesses is expected," the ministry said.

Key findings from the “Labour Market 2015” report released today showed that local employment growth had slowed as...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Just over half, or 50.5 per cent, of the Singaporeans and permanent residents made redundant from July to September last year were back in employment by the end of the year.

This figure measures the re-entry rates within six months of redundancy based on Central Provident Fund records, and was down from 54.9 per cent three months earlier and 59.2 per cent at the end of 2014.

Still, the unemployment rate last year remained unchanged for Singaporeans at 2.9 per cent. The figure including permanent residents was 2.8 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent in 2014.

There were 2,268,900 residents in jobs in Singapore at the end of last year, just 700 more than there were a year earlier - when local employment had grown by 96,000.

With the growth in employment of foreigners also slowing, the total number of workers here stood at 3,656,200 at the end of last year.

For the year ahead, the ministry expects redundancies to continue to rise in sectors facing weak external demand and that are undergoing restructuring, while domestic-oriented service sectors are likely to continue to need workers.

The ministry added that it is "closely monitoring the current economic and labour market situation, and is strengthening employment support to help displaced locals re-enter employment".

High-skilled workers make up bulk of lay offs in 2015

Group also less likely to be in new jobs within 6 months, along with older workers and degree holders
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2016

Higher-skilled workers, degree holders and middle-aged workers were the hardest hit by layoffs last year, making up more of the pool of resident workers made redundant than workers of other occupational, educational and age groups.

These groups were also less likely than other resident workers to be in employment within six months of being made redundant, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics released yesterday showed.

Of the Singaporeans and permanent residents who lost their jobs last year, more than seven in 10 (71 per cent) were professionals, managers, executives and technicians, up from 66 per cent the year before.

This was disproportionately higher than their 54 per cent share of the resident workforce last year.

Between workers with different educational qualifications, degree holders made up the largest share - 44 per cent - of residents who lost their jobs last year. This was up from 41 per cent in 2014.

One in three of the resident workers made redundant last year was aged 40 to 49, despite this group making up only about one in four of the overall resident workforce.

Less than half of both degree holders and middle-aged workers who were made redundant in the third quarter of the year were back in employment by December.

Some workers could have decided to go for training or stop looking for a job, MOM said in its report.

But another reason could be that older workers already have preferences, such as not wanting to do shift work, said Ms Linda Teo, country manager of human resource firm ManpowerGroup Singapore.

"This means they won't be at the top of the list when employers sieve through applications."

Adecco Singapore country manager Femke Hellemons said workers here often move from industry to industry for a comparative advantage, and skilled workers may take more time to find a job that they have the right skills for that also matches their pay expectations.

Losing a job would be a blow for those over 40 years old and with higher skills as they tend to have higher financial obligations such as mortgages and children's study loans, but at the same time they are more costly to employers, said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Overall, redundancies rose over the year while the number of vacancies fell, which experts said was because of weak global demand.

"This could be a sign of companies adopting measures to achieve cost efficiencies through outsourcing, offshoring and adoption of technologies in their work processes," said Mr Foo See Yang, vice-president and country general manager of Kelly Services Singapore.

ManpowerGroup's Ms Teo said the employment pattern is likely to continue its downward slide, as hiring intentions for the next three months are at their weakest since the third quarter of 2009.

But some industries still showed demand for workers, with job openings continuing to outnumber job seekers at a ratio of 1.23 last year, albeit below the 1.39 in 2014.

The tight labour market and manpower shortage in some industries boosted real median incomes for full-time employed Singaporeans, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, which rose 7 per cent over the year. This is more than the 1.4 per cent rise in 2014.

But the growth was not matched on the productivity front. Labour productivity last year fell by 0.1 per cent when measured as value added per worker, an improvement from 2014 when it fell 0.5 per cent.

While unemployment remained low, DBS' Mr Seah said it could worsen quickly if the economy dips into a recession and sees broad-based retrenchments.

Already, the figures do not account for workers who are underemployed, he noted. "People could be in jobs but jobs that do not compensate for their skill sets."

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