Fewer layoffs in Q1, but job market remains weak

The office crowd in the Central Business District (CBD).
The office crowd in the Central Business District (CBD). PHOTO: ST FILE

Long-term unemployment rate rises, mismatch of jobs and skills a setback

Singapore’s labour market figures show signs of a budding pickup, with fewer workers laid off in the first three months of this year.

But the labour market is still not out of the woods because the mismatch of skills and jobs continues to be a setback, especially for the PMETs, or professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

Figures released yesterday by the Manpower Ministry show that the number of workers laid off fell to the lowest level in more than a year.

It was about 4,000, below the ministry's initial estimates of 4,800 workers and much lower than the 5,440 laid off in the final quarter of last year.

Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng said yesterday's updated data "provides a less negative signal and also coincides with tentative improvements in domestic demand".

But some groups of workers continue to struggle beyond 25 weeks in their job search, causing the long-term unemployment rate for residents to rise to 0.8 per cent as of March this year, up from 0.7 per cent a year earlier.

Also, the residents' rate of re- entry into jobs in the first quarter was 64 per cent, slightly lower than in the previous quarter.

This measure refers to workers who got a job within six months of being laid off in the third quarter of last year.

But for the PMETs, the rate was worse, at 61 per cent.

Observers blame mainly the structural mismatch of skills and jobs.

"There may be jobs in certain sectors, but we are not able to find those equipped with needed skills and experience to take on these new job openings," said labour MP Patrick Tay.

He called on employers to equip staff with updated skills, and workers to embrace change.

Overall, the unemployment rate in March held steady at 2.2 per cent, after accounting for seasonal variations.

For Singaporeans, it was 3.5 per cent, while that for Singaporeans combined with permanent residents was 3.2 per cent. The rates remain unchanged from last December, but were higher than those in March last year.

Job openings in March were outnumbered by unemployed people for the fourth consecutive quarter.

This was shown by the seasonally adjusted ratio of vacancies to jobless people, which improved slightly to 0.81 in March, up from 0.77 in December last year.

Overall, total employment fell to 3,666,300 as of March, a reduction of 6,800 workers compared with end-2016.

The main reason was the decline in work permit holders in manufacturing and construction.

The ministry expects the labour market outlook to remain uneven.

"With continued cyclical weakness in some sectors and ongoing business restructuring, redundancies and the unemployment rate may remain elevated," it said.

SEE TOP OF THE NEWS: Longer job search more common, with PMETs hit hardest

Correction note: In an earlier version of the story, we said that Singapore's employment figures show signs of a budding pickup. The Ministry of Manpower has since clarified that employment figures can refer to total employment, which declined. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Fewer layoffs in Q1, but job market remains weak'. Print Edition | Subscribe