WhyItMatters

It's not all rosy for job seekers

The Ministry of Manpower said on Thursday that four in 10 job vacancies are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). It went on to say that there were 116 positions for every 100 job seekers last year.

Just last week, it was revealed that, in real terms, citizens saw their median income from work jumped by 7 per cent last year.

Higher salaries, more jobs than job seekers, a choice of professional positions - workers ought to have much to cheer about.

But wait. The picture is not all that rosy, in at least three ways.

First, these were last year's numbers - the median income was captured in June and the vacancies in September. They do not reflect the current downbeat economic mood with the stock market slump since last month.

Second, PMET jobs making up four in 10 vacancies last year is nothing to shout about. Half of working Singaporeans were already in PMET jobs. This means the proportion of vacancies in such jobs is less than the proportion of Singaporeans employed in them. In fact, vacancies for PMET posts, relative to takers, are also shrinking, and could erode the bargaining power of white-collar workers.

Third, the labour market is splitting into two clear tracks. There are more than 16,400 jobs for positions such as guards, waiters, cleaners and shop sales assistants that have few takers. There are also 4,800 well-paid PMET jobs for positions such as restaurant managers and sales executives unfilled because prospects lacked skills or experience.

This mismatch can widen.

For now, Singaporeans will benefit from the tight labour market. But the tide can easily turn.

Headhunters are warning of slower wage growth this year.

Yesterday's rosy picture cannot lull us into thinking that salaries will keep rising and jobs will continue to outnumber job seekers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2016, with the headline 'It's not all rosy for job seekers'. Print Edition | Subscribe