Singapore’s Unemployment Rate is Going Up, Should We Panic?

July 3, 20178:43 am1757 views

Job losses, skills mismatch, increasing unemployment rate, retrenchments… bad news seems to keep on coming.

The Ministry of Manpower just released its latest Labour Market Report of the First Quarter 2017. It revealed that our citizen unemployment rate has risen to 3.5% (compared to 2.7% a year ago). Singapore’s resident long-term unemployment rate has also edged up to 0.8% (compared to 0.7% in 2016).

Labour Market First Quarter 2017

Labour Market First Quarter 2017

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also surveyed 27 economists and analysts who closely monitor the Singapore economy, with 21 respondents expecting the unemployment rate to remain around 2.4% by year end.

Increasingly, different industries will experience even more disparate growth. If we are still trying to survive in the worst hit industries, it may be time to plan for our second career in industries offering the best growth prospects, even before unemployment hits us.

HR professionals will be faced with managing either excess manpower, shortage of suitable applicants, or both.

In danger of retrenchments: Marine & Offshore Engineering and Chemicals industry

The Marine & Offshore Engineering and Chemicals industry may be the hardest hit as companies face limited growth prospects due to the global downturn, while having to service operating costs and maturing debts.

According to the Association of Singapore Marine Industries (ASMI), Singaporean shipyards only secured S$820m worth of new orders in 2016 (compared to S$4.9bn orders recorded in 2015).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with union leaders (MCI)

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with union leaders (MCI)

In April 2017 union leaders’ meeting with the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on jobs and skills, Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union(SMEEU) executive secretary Mah Cheong Fatt shared how 30,000 to 40,000 jobs in the offshore and marine sector have been cut over the last two years.

Rising retrenchments in Singapore

Rising retrenchments in Singapore

Although new jobs are being created in the Chemicals industry, lower-value PME jobs are being phased out as most chemical companies have been digitising essential functions internally.

PMETs are at higher risk of retrenchments (MOM)

PMETs are at higher risk of retrenchments (MOM)

If companies in these two industries are not able to restructure quick enough or have enough finances to tide through the downturn, more retrenchments may occur. Whilst retrenched workers can get assistance from their unions and e2i, HR has an important role to play in managing excess manpower and providing alternative options to retrenchment.

Desperate to hire: Transport, ICT and Health

On the other end of the spectrum, there are sectors desperate to hire skilled manpower for various roles. We look at three sectors where the jobs are at – transport, Infocomm technology and health services.


The Land Transport industry expects to hire 8,000 staff for various job roles by 2030, such as bus captains, bus and railway engineers, data scientists, service controllers and technicians.

Bus training simulator at e2i (TODAY)

Bus training simulator at e2i (TODAY)

Although LTA and e2i have launched the Singapore Bus Academy and Singapore Rail Academy to address the skills gap, some parts of the industry have been tarnished by bad press regarding incidences of workplace safety, unpleasant staff treatment, unfavourable HR policies and even court cases.

Infocomm Technology (ICT) 

The Government has projected a demand for another 53,200 ICT jobs by 2018 in Singapore. However, there are still not enough local IT professionals for jobs in network, operations, development and data analytics.

There is no shortage of tripartite efforts such as the National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF), TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) Integrated Career Services, ICT Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) and various training funds to upskill local talents.

Top 10 Technical ICT Skills in Demand (NTUC Future Jobs, Skills and Training)

Top 10 Technical ICT Skills in Demand (NTUC Future Jobs, Skills and Training)

Yet besides theoretical knowledge, employers also require skills to tackle hands-on problem solving, product or software development and creative thinking. In contrast, many ICT professionals are involved in implementation and support functions.

One way to groom future ICT talents is to expose ICT students (both from Institutes of Higher Learning and mid-career switchers) to real case projects and industry-led training, preferably on the job which alleviates the manpower crunch. This gives HR, opportunities to be actively involved in pushing for OJT training and continuous learning as a culture within the company.

Health Services

In a recent blog post by Patrick Tay (Director of NTUC’s Future Jobs, Skills and Training Department), we need an estimated 9,000 more healthcare workers over the next 3 years.

There are positions for nurses, allied health professionals, counsellors, patient care assistants and operating theatre technicians. Support staff in IT, procurement, facility management roles are also sought after.

In demand Healthcare jobs (NTUC Future Jobs, Skills and Training)

In demand Healthcare jobs (NTUC Future Jobs, Skills and Training)

There are scholarships available to attract more students into nursing and allied health training programmes, programmes for mid-career entrants to join the industry such as the Professional Conversion Programmes, Traineeship Programmes and Senior Management Associate Schemes.

Yet these positions can be difficult to hire due to long work hours/shift work, perceived stress from customer-facing duties and challenging work environments.

To redesign jobs in Health Services, HR can support the various departments by using technology and productivity initiatives, so staff can redirect efforts and time towards addressing other needs.

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) is also developing a Skills Framework for the healthcare sector, which HR professionals should be on lookout for. Although the unemployment rate has risen and there may be many more retrenchments that follow, we should not panic.

There are still sectors actively looking to hire. The tricky part however is, on how we can collectively bridge the skills mismatch gap to manage country’s human capital better.

Author credit:

Julia Chan is a full time working mum with experience in business development, marketing and teaching, picking up an MBA along the way. She currently guest writes on a range of topics such as work, parenting, travel and government.

Also read: Singapore Takes Steps to Prepare Workers for Green Jobs of the Future

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