Positions in search of people

Workforce expert says accountancy and engineering among five hardest jobs to fill

In a tight labour market, what are the hardest jobs to fill?

Although a recent survey shows companies in Singapore find it difficult to hire accountants, for instance, experts say this applies mostly to specialised roles within the profession.

They also say bosses have a tough time finding people for jobs which involve work in outdoor conditions and irregular hours.

Global workforce expert ManpowerGroup said last month that based on a survey of 234 respondents, accountancy and engineering were among the five most difficult positions to hire for in Singapore.

The Straits Times talked to hiring agencies and businesses to find out what it is like on the ground trying to fill various positions.




The society here views a person working at customer service in a bank as having a more glamorous role than, say, a technician, even though the person in thebank maybe very junior. This is how the certain jobs are viewed.

MR JOSHUA YIM, chief executive of recruitment firm Achieve Group


Employers said they find it difficult to hire accountants for more specialised roles, such as tax accountants and treasurers.

Few accountants receive training early in their careers to take on such specialised roles later, said Mr Dominic Salomoni, associate director at recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Singapore.

The supply of accountants has not fallen, but most graduates in Singapore choose to begin  their careers by working in audit positions for a Big Four accounting firm to acquire a broad foundation in accounting early in their careers, he said.

Not many choose to start out in the more specialised areas of tax accounting, treasury and cost accounting for the above reasons.

The Big Four accounting firms also hire many more fresh graduates for audit than other accounting areas as this is where most client work is focused, Mr Salomoni said.

Opportunities outside the Big Four for fresh graduates to train in these specialist areas are limited: Corporates and banks seek to fill these roles with accountants with prior experience in them.

As most accounting graduates develop expertise in financial accounting and statutory reporting through audit, they find themselves better equipped later in their careers for roles in these areas, Mr Salomoni pointed out.

"There are not enough fresh graduates going into these roles (of tax accounting, treasury and cost accounting) and thus not enough people to take up these roles at a higher level, where they are needed."

Tax accounting involves work such as filing returns and planning for future tax obligations. Treasury involves managing the liquidity of a company, and cost accounting involves accounting for costs when manufacturing a product.

Mr Sam Kok Weng, human capital leader at PwC Singapore, told The Straits Times that it is "not difficult to find accountants with skills in financial and management accounting".

However, it was "a challenge finding accountants specialising in financial crime, auditing for cyber security risks, forensic accounting and accounting for insurance companies et cetera".

It was also tough finding accountants with a specialised knowledge of a specific industry, such as banking, he added.

Mr Ronald Lee, managing director at recruitment agency Primestaff, said small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can find accountants in the tight labour market if they boost salaries.

"Some SMEs which need these accountants are not so willing to pay more, whereas candidates with so many jobs in front of them can pick and choose," he said.


Another field where employers struggle to find experienced staff is engineering.

Mr Joe Eades, assistant honorary secretary at The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said it was difficult to find engineers in all sectors but the difficulty applied particularly to those with experience.

Mr Jackie Lau, managing director at Seng Heng Engineering, an SME which employs mechanical and chemical engineers, agreed that senior engineers with technical expertise were "harder to come by".

But, he said, his firm does not experience problems with hiring engineers fresh out of university.

Both observed that many engineers could have gone into other industries, leaving behind fewer senior engineers in the field.

Mr Lee said it was difficult to hire electronic engineers as many had moved to other vocations because the local semiconductor industry has been weak for a long time.

"It can be a tall order to hire these engineers, especially if you're looking for one with many years of experience," he said.

Surbana Jurong said it was harder to find specialist engineers in underground and aviation sectors.

ManpowerGroup said this difficulty also applied to the biological and medical sectors.


Positions such as waiters, restaurant managers, warehouse staff and technicians are the hardest jobs to fill because of their working conditions, said Mr Joshua Yim, chief executive of recruitment firm Achieve Group.

Mr Yim said Singaporeans looked for jobs which involved higher pay, comfortable working conditions, proximity to the city and regular office hours. These jobs did not fulfil these conditions.

Jobs which meet these conditions are seen to be more glamorous and desirable, Mr Yim added.

"The society here views a person working at customer service in a bank as having a more glamorous role than, say, a technician, even though the person in the bank may be very junior.

"This is how certain jobs are viewed," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Positions in search of people'. Print Edition | Subscribe