Recovery for labour market likely to be protracted: Experts

Hopes for a better 2021 are aplenty, but recovery for the labour market is likely to be protracted, experts say.

Although the latest quarterly labour market data released earlier this month shows the employment situation for Singapore residents is on the mend, uncertainties still abound.

Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank’s head of treasury research and strategy, said it may take until 2022 for unemployment rates to return to pre-Covid-19 levels, barring a Covid-19 panacea.

“The biggest challenge is not really new per se – that there is a significant SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) base and older, low-income workers and even PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who may find the pace of change accelerated and disruptive and have a more difficult time adapting and transforming,” she said.

It remains to be seen how the labour market will react next year when the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidies taper off and some of the traineeships, attachments and training programmes introduced to help job seekers end.

National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said in a recent webinar organised by The Straits Times that the local and global health situation will be a big factor in determining how the economy recovers from its low base this year.

Some sectors are likely to stay muted, namely the aviation and aerospace sectors, engineering clusters that support those sectors, and hospitality and tourism. But healthcare, biotech and logistics should trend positively overall, he said.

The pandemic roiled the labour market this year, and to mitigate the impact, the Government rolled out aggressive job and training support schemes starting from February.

By the third quarter, employment levels had rebounded. There were 2.34 million residents working here in September, just 0.4 per cent shy of the 2.35 million in September last year.

Job vacancies also shot up in September for the first time all year, a sign that demand could be on the mend. However, retrenchments continued to climb in the third quarter.