Record number of job vacancies in S'pore last year as economic recovery picked up

Compared with 2020, employers took longer to fill open positions amid the tight labour market in 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Employers facing a labour crunch took longer to fill open positions last year, amid skills shortages and border restrictions.

This came as the number of job vacancies in Singapore reached a record high of 114,000 last December – more than double the figure of 53,000 a year earlier – as economic recovery picked up.

The proportion of vacancies unfilled for at least six months grew to 35 per cent last year, up from 27 per cent in 2020, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) data released yesterday (April 1).

Before this, the proportion had been on a broad downtrend from 2014, said the ministry in its annual report on job vacancies.

The trend was similar for both professional, manager, executive and technician  (PMET) roles and non-PMET roles, though the share of non-PMET roles that were unfilled for extended periods was much higher, at 49 per cent, compared with 24 per cent for PMET roles.

About half of the hard-to-fill PMET positions were in the growth sectors of information and communications (ICT), financial and insurance services, professional services, and health and social services.

MOM noted that while the employment of Singaporeans and permanent residents grew steadily in these sectors, it was insufficient to meet the rising demand for such workers, with employers citing a lack of necessary specialised skills and work experience as key reasons.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Friday that the labour shortage should ease in the coming months, firstly as borders open up and more foreign workers in non-PMET jobs are able to enter Singapore, and also as training and career conversion programmes are ramped up to prepare local PMETs for new jobs.

But with the relaxation of social gathering measures, consumer-facing industries may face persistent strain as hiring demand picks up alongside resumption of business activities, he said.

“These are early days, but we are doing everything we can by supporting industries and companies with the upskilling, upgrading, innovation and transformation,” he told reporters at a media briefing about the data. He had earlier visited Crystal Jade Palace restaurant at Takashimaya Shopping Centre to see how its jobs were redesigned.

Dr Tan also said the record-high job vacancies, with a growth in employment and falling unemployment, are clear indications that the economy is recovering from the impact of the pandemic.

“We are hopeful that many employers can still successfully fill vacancies by expanding their resident workforce,” he said, encouraging employers to look at hiring women and older workers who are not in the labour force.

As some businesses expanded, restructured or developed new business areas, 44 per cent of the vacancies last year were for newly created positions, said the MOM report. This is marginally lower than the proportion of 45 per cent in the year before.

In both the ICT sector as well as the construction sector, vacancies for newly created positions were more prevalent than for existing positions.

The ministry's survey of 14,340 private- and public-sector organisations, with a total of 1,809,900 employees, also found that PMET roles formed 53 per cent of vacancies last year.

The top three PMET jobs in demand by employers were commercial and marketing sales executives; software, web and multimedia developers; and operations officers who were not involved in transport operations.

As for non-PMET roles, the top jobs in demand were construction labourers, shop sales assistants and cleaners.

The proportion of non-PMET vacancies has crept up since 2020, especially for construction workers and electrical and electronic equipment assemblers due to entry restrictions on foreign workers, MOM said.

The labour crunch will likely continue to be a challenge for small and medium-sized  enterprises (SMEs) this year, said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises vice-president Ang Yuit. But he hopes that other costs like electricity will stabilise in the second half of the year so that SMEs can focus more on attracting and retaining talent.

Singapore National Employers Federation executive director Sim Gim Guan said that besides business transformation, the expansion of the progressive wage models to the retail and food and beverage sectors in September this year and March next year should also help these sectors to attract workers as demand for services picks up.

MOM’s survey also found that employers are increasingly considering factors such as skills and work attitude in hiring. For 73 per cent of vacancies last year, academic qualifications were not the main determinant for hiring, up from 71 per cent in 2020 and 65 per cent in 2019.

Meanwhile, the proportion of vacancies last year involving work that can be done remotely declined to 31 per cent, from 35 per cent in 2020.

MOM said this was due in part to the resumption of workplace activities, which meant fewer employers offered remote work options for roles that usually require face-to-face interactions or on-site presence. There was also a higher proportion of vacancies coming from industries and occupations where remote work was not prevalent.

Dr Tan also noted that the easing of restrictions means that demand for short-term Covid-19 roles, such as safe distancing ambassadors, is likely to fall.

But he said the majority of affected workers have gone back to their old roles, such as those in service industries and aviation, as restrictions eased. The healthcare sector is also trying to absorb those who were working in roles related to the sector.

Many organisations that employed safe distancing ambassadors are working closely with agencies like Workforce Singapore and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute to provide an employment road map for the workers. Those who do not have a role can approach SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres for help, Dr Tan added.

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