S'pore's total employment grew in Q1 for first time since start of Covid-19, retrenchments fell for 2nd straight quarter

Total employment grew for the first time since the start of the pandemic in the first quarter of the year. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - The labour market has continued its recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the first three months of the year, latest manpower estimates showed on Wednesday (April 28).

Total employment grew for the first time since the start of the pandemic in the first quarter of the year, led mostly by the services sectors' hiring of residents.

These services sectors include information and communications, financial services and professional services, which continued to see employment expansion.

Employment in construction also saw a slight rebound, with the contraction in non-resident employment moderating significantly.

Employment in manufacturing continued to contract, but at a slower pace.

Overall, resident employment growth was broad-based, while non-resident employment contracted across all sectors, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said during a visit to NTUC LearningHub that this is a "significant turn" in the labour market recovery.

"It suggests that the confidence amongst employers is returning, is continuing to build up," she said.

Meanwhile, unemployment here, which peaked at 3.5 per cent in September last year, continued to ease but remains above pre-pandemic levels.

The estimated overall unemployment rate in March is 2.9 per cent, said MOM.

The unemployment rate among residents also fell slightly, from 4.3 per cent in January to 4 per cent in March. This puts the number of unemployed residents in March at 95,500.

Among Singaporeans, the rate also declined from 4.5 per cent in January to 4.2 per cent in March.

MOM estimates also showed that the number of retrenchments continued to decline for the second consecutive quarter to pre-pandemic levels, after peaking in the third quarter of 2020.

Similarly, the incidence of retrenchments also fell, from 2.8 workers retrenched per 1,000 employees in the fourth quarter of last year to 1.1 workers retrenched per 1,000 employees in the first quarter of this year.

However, MOM cautioned that there may still be pockets of job displacements due to ongoing restructuring and reorganisation of businesses.

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While the preliminary estimates show encouraging signs of broad-based recovery, the labour market is still not fully back to pre-Covid-19 conditions, the ministry said.

"As a result of ongoing travel and entry restrictions, hiring remains subdued in sectors such as construction and hospitality. Unemployment rates may have eased but remain higher than before the pandemic," it said.

The labour market will continue to face challenges from travel restrictions that affect the inflow of work pass holders, as well as from the changing profiles of jobs available as a result of business transformations.

Business sentiment appears relatively positive, MOM said, citing ongoing polls of companies. In March, 73 per cent of the companies polled indicated they had plans to hire, up from 65 per cent in December last year.

The proportion of companies that intend to cut staff size fell to 2.2 per cent, from 2.8 per cent in December, while those that said they would reduce salaries rose to 3.4 per cent, from 2.8 per cent three months before.

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo visiting NTUC LearningHub at Bras Basah Road, on April 28, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Mrs Teo noted that with the travel restrictions, more employers are considering hiring locals for positions that require new skills as a result of business restructuring.

She urged job seekers to pick up new skills through courses offered by NTUC LearningHub, so that they will be more attractive to prospective employers.

Displaced workers can also tap on the SGUnited Skills Programme, traineeships or mid-career pathway programmes.

"There is no penalty towards the individual if, along the way, they find employment and decide to exit. So we'd like to encourage them to continue exploring these options offered through such schemes and know that the support is readily available to them to make full use of the time they have," said Mrs Teo.

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