Jobs growth in first three quarters hits a six-year low

December 17, 201511:18 am335 views

The number of jobs created in the first nine months of this year fell to its lowest since 2009, when Singapore and other economies were recovering from the global financial crisis.

At the same time, unemployment rate for Singapore citizens and permanent residents has crept up for the second consecutive quarter, reaching 3 per cent in September, compared with 2.8 per cent in June.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released its latest labour market report today (Dec 15). It showed that cumulatively, from January to September, total employment grew by 16,200, with 12,600 jobs added in the third quarter — just over a third of the figure (33,400) in the same period last year.

In 2009, employment growth in the first nine months was flat after the 13,900 jobs added in the third quarter were cancelled out by the fall in employment in the preceding two quarters.

As at September, total employment in Singapore reached about 3.6 million, 1.6 per cent higher than a year ago. Job creation had slowed from June when total employment was 2.2 per cent higher compared with the same time last year, the MOM said.

Nevertheless, on a quarter-to-quarter basis, the number of jobs added between July and September increased by 2,900 from 9,700 in the second quarter. Jobs growth was mainly driven by the services sector, including health and social services, and professional services such as legal and accounting.

However, employment continued to shrink for the wholesale and retail trade, as well as the real estate sector.

Last week, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say warned of slower job growth in the next five years amid the economic restructuring to focus on productivity improvements and become manpower-lean. At the same time, local workforce growth would slow down along with an ageing population.

Economists interviewed said the lacklustre jobs data reflected the muted global demand, which has led businesses to become more cautious in hiring. Domestically, they cited Government policies — namely, property cooling measures and the tightening of foreign worker inflow — as contributing factors.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said: “The terrorist attacks in other countries don’t help business sentiments. If people are not opening up their wallets … factories, financing etc in Asia will be less busy. The whole supply chain will be affected.”

SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira noted that in the past, a “significant proportion” of jobs growth was due to foreign workers joining the labour force. “With the tightening of foreign immigration in recent years, jobs growth figures today are simply not directly comparable to that in the pre-tightening era,” he said.

He added that the biggest concern would be the employment prospects for more educated and older PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who have been retrenched and may find it difficult to get a new job comparable to their previous positions.

MOM’s report showed that as of September, those who have been looking for work for at least six months rose by 18.5 per cent to 12,800 people, compared to the same period last year. In particular, those between 40 and 49 years old, holding degrees or post-secondary (non-tertiary) qualifications were more affected by long-term unemployment compared to last year.

Mr Song said the silver lining is that businesses are still hiring, albeit selectively, and there is net job growth. The key is for workers to stay relevant with the right skills, he said.

Agreeing, ANZ Research economist Ng Weiwen noted that the local workforce will inevitably shrink with the ageing population. Innovation and raising productivity will be critical to economic growth — and this in turn will lead to job creation, he said.

In the meantime, the number of lay-offs increased in the third quarter compared to the previous three months, after two consecutive quarters of decline. Between July and September, 3,460 workers were laid off. This number was similar to the same period last year but about 200 more compared to between April and June.

The services sector, which includes food and beverage as well as retail industries, accounted for 60 per cent of the lay-offs. PMETs made up seven out of 10 people who were laid off in the third quarter.

Job vacancies continued to fall for the third consecutive quarter. In September, there were 116 openings to 100 job seekers, down from a ratio of 121:100 in June.


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