More layoffs, more hired in service sector

More being hired even as layoffs hit eight-year high; analysts say finance, retail among worst hit

The Planet Traveller storefront, which has the Sale sign on it, on May 28. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Layoffs in the service sector peaked at 3,400 in the second quarter of this year, the highest in eight years.

But its ranks continued to swell, with the sector employing 8,600 more workers last month than in March, according to preliminary figures released by the Manpower Ministry yesterday.

The sector makes up over two-thirds of Singapore's gross domestic product and workforce.

Singapore's economy is forecast to grow between 1 per cent and 3 per cent this year, and the Government is reviewing this range amid sluggish global conditions.

Analysts said that among the worst-hit industries here are finance, retail, and information and communications technology (ICT).

And the big worry is that those asked to go are mainly professionals, managers, executives and technicians, a group that formed the bulk of layoffs last year.

Said DBS economist Irvin Seah: "Policymakers should keep a close watch on this as there could be some value destruction in the job market when high-value jobs are lost."

But industries such as food and beverage are less affected as most restaurants do not have excess staff to lay off, said Mr Andrew Tjioe, president of the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

"We don't have that luxury. Many are short of workers," said Mr Tjioe, who is executive chairman of the Tung Lok Group of restaurants.

Also, domestic-oriented industries such as healthcare and social services, and ICT still have vacancies, said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan.

Labour MP Patrick Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, noted that while some companies in ICT are closing product lines, jobs in e-commerce, software development and compliance are still available.

It is "important to retrain workers so that they can move more easily across industries", said Mr Wan.

Ms L. Zhong, 46, has gone through such ups and down.

She was laid off as a supply chain manager last year when her job became redundant as her company restructured.

She spent almost a year hunting for a job. "I kept questioning myself and my competency, and what I've done wrong," she said.

But joining a support group inspired her to stay positive. The support programme for professionals, managers and executives is run by the National Trades Union Congress and social enterprise GioCareers.

Ms Zhong now works in the electronics industry. But as a manager on a digital platform, "the job is very different from what I used to do, so I'm learning a lot every day", she said. "Previously, I met customers face to face. With e-commerce, I deal with them online."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline More layoffs, more hired in service sector. Subscribe