Graduation joy may turn to job hunt blues amid economic gloom

Graduating students at the Nanyang Technological University convocation ceremony in 2009.
Graduating students at the Nanyang Technological University convocation ceremony in 2009.PHOTO: ST FILE

Amid the tossing of mortarboards and joyful jump shots that characterise university graduation season, the gloom of entering a sluggish economy looms on the horizon for young job seekers.

Recruitment experts believe that the class of 2016 will enter a slower job market than last year's.

Randstad Singapore country manager Jaya Dass said: "Fresh graduates are coming into a global economy that is... experiencing slow growth and where large multinational corporations aren't undergoing massive expansion."

Graduates hoping for entry-level jobs in these MNCs might find fewer opportunities, she warned.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University held their graduation ceremonies last month, while those at Nanyang Technological University are ongoing.

Preliminary figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released last Thursday painted a gloomy picture of the labour market.

The unemployment rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents was 3 per cent last month, the highest since end-2010. Layoffs also reached a seven-year high.

In a survey of 89 companies by Human Capital Singapore and Remuneration Data Services, 45 per cent had frozen or plan to freeze recruitment this year, compared with 27 per cent last year.

But there are still bright spots.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo named financial technology - or fintech - as one of the most promising industries.

"With the Government investing resources in developing fintech, there are plenty of opportunities for fresh graduates to consider."

She suggested they go into payment or personal finance start-ups, or even explore start-ups in blockchain technology, a new transaction technology.

Digital marketing and e-commerce are other areas of growth. Adecco Singapore country manager Femke Hellemons said: "Fresh graduates looking to enter the media, public relations and advertising industry can expect good prospects."

NUS Business School senior associate director of career services Sybi Fitzgerald suggested graduates contemplate roles in the growing healthcare sector.

Other sectors with a dearth of takers are engineering and sales. In a recent graduate placement by recruitment website Glints, only eight out of more than 500 applicants keen on people-centred roles wanted sales careers.

In contrast, finance remained oversubscribed, with more than 100 fresh graduates applying for an internship at a boutique investment firm. Glints co-founder Oswald Yeo said: "Job seekers should be open to alternatives or parallels to finance, including fintech start-ups."

Employers are also increasingly on the lookout for those with digital skills. Mr Sanjay Modi, Asia-Pacific and Middle East managing director of job site Monster.com, pinpoints social media management, search engine optimisation and analytics, and user-experience design as some of the most desirable skills.

Fresh graduates should not turn their noses up at contract roles, said Kelly Services vice-president and country general manager Foo See Yang. "Sometimes due to attrition or business expansion, companies may offer them permanent positions in the future."

NUS political science graduate Ernest Puey, 25, is looking for a media job but is expanding his search to corporate communications.

He said: "My key considerations are how far my first job sets me up for the rest of my career. But sometimes you have to take what you can get. I'm not at that stage yet, but if things get from bad to worse, being patient can take me only so far."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Graduation joy may turn to job hunt blues amid economic gloom'. Print Edition | Subscribe