Why It Matters

Jobs data holds urgent message

The labour statistics for the third quarter released on Tuesday painted a picture of a job market that, while tight, continues to weaken.

Employment growth in the first nine months of the year was the lowest since the 2009 recession, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

Long-term unemployment rates for residents also rose to 2013 levels after a respite last year. Although still relatively low, it is a warning sign that weaknesses in the market are more intransigent than expected.

The long-term unemployed are people who have been looking for work for 25 weeks or more. The longer they stay out of the workforce, the more likely they are to despair and give up on the job hunt.

The ones bearing the brunt of this are older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), who form the bulk of the long-term unemployed. They made up seven out of 10 residents retrenched in the third quarter. While layoffs in this period were about the same as last year's, some 500 more PMETs were axed in the third quarter than the last.

Job vacancies are also becoming fewer. Although they still outnumber job-seekers, they now do so at a ratio of 116 to 100, a level also not seen since 2013.

Though some might view shrinking job vacancies as a sign of more people finding it easier to get work, when coupled with rising unemployment and sluggish job creation, they could signal instead that the demand for labour is slackening.

Manpower will become leaner in Singapore's ongoing productivity drive, as more companies heed the Government's call to trim the fat and reap the benefits of technology.

It has become ever more crucial that workers tap schemes such as the SkillsFuture initiatives, which help them upgrade their skills to stay relevant.

At the same time, unions will have their work cut out for them in extending lifelines to the unemployed, swiftly moving them back into the workforce before they grow discouraged.

Otherwise, it will be a productivity push that is bound to leave someone behind.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Jobs data holds urgent message'. Print Edition | Subscribe