Jobs growth highest in five years, but unemployment inches up as well
But unemployment and retrenchments also up on such likely factors as hiring caution and older workers seeking to return to workforce
It was a mixed picture for the labour market as employment continued to grow but unemployment, including long-term unemployment, and retrenchment numbers went up in the third quarter.
According to finalised data in a Manpower Ministry (MOM) report released yesterday, total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers, grew by 38,600 in the first three quarters of the year, the highest in five years. This reflected the rebound in the construction sector. Excluding that sector, employment growth in the first nine months of the year (30,400) kept pace with the same period last year (30,300).
In the third quarter specifically, total employment grew by 21,700, revised from October's flash estimate of 22,400.
This is still more than three times compared with the previous quarter (6,200) and higher than the same period last year (16,700).
But unemployment inched up quarter on quarter, with the seasonally adjusted jobless rate rising from 2.2 per cent to 2.3 per cent overall, from 3.1 to 3.2 per cent for citizens and permanent residents, and 3.2 to 3.3 per cent for Singaporeans.
The rates for residents and citizens were below the decade's peak in September 2009, the report noted.
The seasonally adjusted resident long-term unemployment rate for the third quarter also rose from 0.6 per cent to 0.7 per cent after two consecutive quarters of decline.
MOM said this may have been a result of employers being more cautious in hiring, as can be seen in the smaller number of job vacancies this quarter.
The seasonally adjusted number of vacancies fell from 47,700 in June to 42,200 in September.
Speaking at a media briefing ahead of yesterday's report, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said this hiring caution means job seekers may take more time to persuade employers to hire them.
Fewer vacancies also means job seekers take longer to find suitable openings.
Mrs Teo said: "You can have a situation where employment is going up, and yet because there is caution in hiring, unemployment also goes up because people take longer to get into a job though the vacancies are there."
This could also be due to older job seekers returning to the workforce, she added. "By virtue of the fact that more people are looking for a job, unemployment will also go up."
Retrenchments in the 12 months ending in September (10,490) were also lower than similar periods last year (11,900) and in 2017 (16,480).
Looking into the future, Mrs Teo expressed caution as the fall in job vacancies indicated confidence is still not strong and the Government has to work hard to reach out to companies that are still hiring and try to help them meet those hiring requirements.
She added: "I hope that confidence returns, and to my mind, we have to keep a very close watch over developments. There is still a fair bit of volatility."
Minister: Singapore must see job-skills mismatch as opportunity
A former marketing and advertising associate director, she stopped working for several years due to health reasons and to take care of her son.
When Ms Lim Su-Lin, 47, rejoined the workforce as a cashier at sports retailer Decathlon in 2016, she did not expect to find a second career.
But she now takes care of the welcome desk at the Bedok outlet, leads membership recruitment for Singapore and is keen to undergo more training.
With the quality of jobs like Ms Lim's getting better, there is a need to invest in training and skills upgrading to bridge the skills gap, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at the launch of a job redesign place-and-train programme for retail workers on Monday.
Speaking to the media after a tour of Decathlon Singapore Lab in Kallang, Mrs Teo said there is a clear uptrend in professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) vacancies over the past five years, despite fluctuations quarter-on-quarter.
But the job and skills mismatch, which flash estimates in October suggested was widening, will not go away.
"If we are transforming our economy at a fast enough rate, then the job-skills mismatch must actually enlarge and we must see that as an opportunity," Mrs Teo said.
Releasing the third quarter labour market report yesterday, the Manpower Ministry said while job vacancies have fallen, job opportunities remain available, particularly for PMETs in the service sector.
To that end, the job redesign place-and-train programme has been launched to help train and upskill retails workers to take on new roles in the digital economy.
Workforce Singapore will work with retailers to customise their training plans, which can comprise a mix of classroom and on-the-job training, and will provide up to 70 per cent in salary support for employees on the programme during the training period.
The programme aims to support 200 workers over two years and Decathlon has taken up half of these places for current and future employees.
Decathlon Singapore Lab deputy store leader Tan Ping Yong said the company is transforming the way its workers behave in stores and have redesigned their job roles to be omnichannel.
Repeating a phrase she used last month, Mrs Teo described the current manpower landscape as "persistent showers with pockets of sunshine".
"Far from retail being a sunset industry, actually we see companies like Decathlon innovating to do something very different," said Mrs Teo.
"The training programmes that we try to put in place is precisely an attempt to be win-win, because they have a vacancy (and) if we have people with the right sort of attitude, then we can train them so they can perform the job roles effectively."
It took Ms Lim two months before she applied for the cashier job as she feared rejection and not being able to learn fast enough.
But with Decathlon giving her autonomy to plan her own training, including digital marketing and even some data analytics, the omnichannel sports leader said she feels young again.
"I didn't think I would have progressed this far."