Singapore job-seekers face weaker hiring prospects in Q4: Survey

Net employment outlook drops to two-year low of +4% amid trade conflicts, recession fears

Singapore's net employment outlook is the weakest reported in two years, as trade conflicts and uncertainties weigh on business confidence, said recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

Job seekers should expect a tighter labour market in the last three months of this year, as hiring prospects are down from both the current quarter as well as a year ago, based on survey results from a recruitment firm.

The net employment outlook of +4 per cent is the weakest reported in two years, as trade conflicts and uncertainties weigh on business confidence, said ManpowerGroup Singapore in a statement today.

The firm polled 669 Singapore employers on their hiring plans for the upcoming quarter and found that 8 per cent plan to decrease headcount, while 13 per cent plan to increase it.

Another 77 per cent expect to maintain their payrolls, while the remaining 2 per cent said they do not know.

Net employment outlook is calculated by subtracting the share of employers planning to decrease headcount from the share of those planning to increase it, and then accounting for seasonal variations.

The fourth-quarter figure is below the +11 per cent outlook that employers had stated for the current third quarter, as well as the +12 per cent outlook for the fourth quarter of last year.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo said that business confidence here has been dampened by global and regional trade conflicts, as well as warnings of a possible recession.

"Anticipating that business will be affected by the economic downturn, companies are limiting their hiring activity. Some companies are also turning to upskilling their employees instead of hiring new staff," she said.

Positive workforce gains are expected in the next quarter for five of the seven sectors covered in the survey; led by the public administration and education sector, where the outlook is +19 per cent.

But, compared with the final quarter of last year, the outlook was softer in all seven sectors.

For example, it declined by 17 percentage points in public administration and education, 12 percentage points in manufacturing and transportation and utilities, and 10 percentage points in services.

Large employers with at least 250 staff seem likely to be the worst affected, with an outlook of -3 per cent reported.

On the other hand, medium employers - those with 50 to 249 staff - had the strongest hiring intentions with an outlook of +9 per cent, more so than small (+4 per cent) and micro (+1 per cent) businesses.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said smaller firms tend to be quite lean, and thus less elastic in hiring and firing than larger firms.

"But the general sentiment among all businesses is poor, and if the negative situation persists in the next one to two quarters, I wouldn't be surprised if SMEs start retrenching," he said.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said that companies were largely adopting a wait-and-see approach.

"While prospects for economic growth remain cloudy, our companies should continue to set their sights on the bright spots around the region, in particular Asean, which continues to show robust growth," he said.

The eight Asia Pacific economies surveyed by ManpowerGroup still have positive hiring outlooks for the final quarter of this year, with the strongest anticipated by Japanese employers (+26 per cent) and the weakest reported in both Singapore and China (+4 per cent).

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2019, with the headline Singapore job-seekers face weaker hiring prospects in Q4: Survey. Subscribe