Front-line sales assistants top list of wanted workers

Cleaners working at the tray collection area at the foodcourt in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Sales assistants, waiters and cleaners were among the jobs with the most vacancies last year. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG 
Cleaners working at the tray collection area at the foodcourt in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Sales assistants, waiters and cleaners were among the jobs with the most vacancies last year. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG 

Wanted: sales assistants, waiters and cleaners.

These three jobs were among those with the most vacancies last year, when overall openings grew nearly 10 per cent from 2012 amid a labour squeeze, according to yesterday's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) annual report on job vacancies.

Last September, which is representative of the year according to the report, there were 61,900 vacancies, up 9.7 per cent from that of a year ago. One in four positions, making up the largest share, was for service and sales workers. These include 3,510 openings for shop sales assistants, putting them at the top of the wanted list.

Waiters were also highly sought after, with 2,190 vacancies, while there were 2,010 cleaner positions in offices and other establishments available.

As for the professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) segment, the highest number of job openings was for teaching professionals, with 2,380 places available.

Four in 10 of all openings went unfilled for six months or longer. But this problem was far more acute for non-PMET positions, with more than half staying unfilled for that long, compared with just 17 per cent for PMET ones.

Shop sales assistant, cleaner, and waiter were the top three occupations with the most long- term vacancies as each had about 1,500 positions staying open for at least six months.

And they were also the most difficult to fill with Singaporeans and permanent residents, a common trend among "lower-end" openings.

Overall, local hires were deemed hard to find for 90 per cent of such vacancies, compared with just 36 per cent in the PMET sector. The top reasons for this, said employers, were unattractive pay and the strenuous work.

In its report, the MOM also noted that non-PMET positions were staying unfilled "amid the moderation in inflow of foreign workers, especially those on the S Pass and work permit".

These are work passes for middle- and less-skilled foreign workers respectively. Quotas for both passes were cut in July last year for the service sector.

And with levies for both groups continuing to rise this year, UOB economist Francis Tan warns that the labour situation could get tougher yet.

Barclays economist Joey Chew also expects front-line service positions to remain hard to fill this year. "This is a chronic demand- and-supply issue in Singapore," she said, adding that it can be addressed by re-designing such jobs to attract locals.

The foreign labour restrictions, coupled with the reluctance of locals to go into front-line sales, are reasons why the retail sector is so strapped for staff, said Mr R. Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group, which distributes fashion brands. "We are trying to bring in more housewives, for example," he said. "But still, we have plenty of vacancies."

janiceh@sph.com.sg

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