Singapore 2017 labour review: The start of a turnaround?

Despite unemployment being at a seven-year-high, there are still some encouraging signs to heed.

On Friday (December 1), Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower released its labour overview of 2017, and several findings indicated that the employment market there remains fairly cool.

In particular, employment rate among residents aged 15 and over fell from 65.3% in 2016 to 64.9% this year, while resident unemployment rose slightly over last year, from 3.0% to 3.1% in June 2017.

The fact that unemployment is at its highest since 2010 also lends a grey perspective to the still-fragile state of the country’s labour market.

Despite that, industry observers believe there were strong signs of a recovering economy, and companies and job-seekers can start to revel in a more positive outlook from next year.

Philippe Martinez, Regional Managing Director, Asia & Country Manager, Adecco Personnel (Singapore), says the findings show there has been a pick-up in hiring across several industries, as companies seek to increase their headcounts to support greater operational activities.

He cited the resident employment rate specifically of those aged 25 to 64, which he says grew from 80.3% to 80.7% year-on-year.

Here are the other encouraging trends he identified.

  • Increasing number of companies introducing Flexible Work Arrangements, in particular to support mothers looking to re-enter the workforce.

Such arrangements include working on a part-time basis, having the option to work from home, and flexible start and end times.

“We have also observed some companies providing greater support to their employees through setting up childcare services in their office,” says Martinez, adding that this could be a contributing factor to a rise in female share of the labour force from 43% in 2007, to 45% in 2017.

“With family responsibilities listed as the top reason for females remaining outside the labour force (at 41.7%), companies looking to attract talent could look at initiating ‘smart working’ alternatives and providing greater support to both fathers and mothers to enable them to balance their work and familial responsibilities.”

  • Increase in the resident population pursuing education/training-related opportunities, particularly among youths. 

Given the ever-changing business landscape and nature of jobs, Martinez says this is a positive sign as a greater percentage of the workforce, are now seeking to upgrade their skillsets and knowledge to meet evolving talent needs by businesses.

Martinez adds that the willingness to learn is testament to the success of the government’s “Adapt & Grow” programmes.

“On the part of jobseekers, they will have to embrace lifelong learning throughout the entirety of their career, whether they are currently employed or not,” he says.

“Given that more youths are pursuing further education, one way that these youths could differentiate themselves when entering the workforce would be to pursue opportunities (such as internships or project/contract roles), which will enable them to apply their skills and showcase their abilities.”

Leveraging technology and innovation

National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay expressed similar views. He says employers should aim to create inclusive workplaces through hiring more mid-career/mature workers, especially PMETs, and embrace flexible work and workplaces to support the hiring of women who wish to return to work.

On top of that, they must encourage and support employee training so that they can keep abreast of the changes.

Beyond that, Tay says companies should continue to leverage the power of technology and innovation. This will help raise productivity, and they can “share the gains with workers to motivate them”.

Fellow workers need to continuously upgrade and up-skill themselves to stay ready, relevant and resilient - ready with the new and in-demand skills, relevant to the new jobs and job roles and resilient amidst the rapid rate of change and disruption including jobs and skills obsolescence.

With the full 2017 Labour Report out on December 13, do check back in again with HRM Magazine, as we attempt to uncover what employers and their workforce can expect in 2018. In the meantime, do check out our prediction last year of Singapore’s job market for 2017

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