The labour market is showing signs of strain as businesses put off recruitment amid the uncertainty brought about by Covid-19.
The hiring outlook among Singapore employers for the next quarter is the weakest since 2009, a report noted yesterday.
It found that 38 per cent of 266 firms polled during the circuit breaker period expect headcount to fall in the three months to Sept 30 compared with this quarter.
A further 11 per cent forecast an increase in headcount, 46 per cent expect no change, and 5 per cent are unsure.
The resulting net employment outlook is minus 28 per cent after accounting for seasonal variation. This is calculated by subtracting the percentage of employers anticipating total employment to fall from the percentage expecting to see an increase in the next quarter.
The net employment outlook figure for the next quarter is 37 percentage points lower than the figure reported for this quarter and 40 percentage points lower than the third quarter of last year, noted the report by United States-based recruitment firm ManpowerGroup.
ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo said most employers are putting non-critical hiring on hold to focus on streamlining current headcounts instead.
"Amidst the bleak hiring climate, job seekers can still find pockets of opportunities, especially in the public administration and education sector due to ongoing government initiatives to stimulate hiring and upskilling," she said. "Job seekers finding difficulty in landing a job in current market conditions can consider upgrading their skills to better position themselves when hiring activity picks up."
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said last week that the number of unemployed residents is likely to exceed 100,000 this year - up from the 91,000 unemployed residents during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic.
The ManpowerGroup report said Singapore's outlook for the third quarter is the worst among the 43 markets surveyed, although all reported weaker hiring sentiment compared with this time last year. The strongest hiring pace is anticipated in Japan, India, the US, China and Taiwan.
Still, 66 per cent of Singapore employers polled expect hiring levels to return to pre-Covid-19 levels within the next 12 months. Some 20 per cent estimate this will happen within three months, and 15 per cent believe it will take more than a year.
Employers in six of the seven sectors here expect payrolls to decline in the coming quarter. Construction and mining firms have the bleakest net employment outlook of minus 57 per cent after adjusting for seasonal variations, the weakest level since ManpowerGroup started conducting the survey here in 2003.
The bright spot is the public administration and education sector, with modest hiring plans and a positive outlook of 10 per cent.
Firms that expect a fall in headcount in the July-to-September quarter compared with the current quarter, according to US-based recruitment firm ManpowerGroup.
Those that forecast increase in headcount.
Those that expect no change.
Out of the four business sizes - micro, small, medium and large - only micro enterprises with fewer than 10 employees had a net positive outlook on hiring.
Ms Teo noted: "With most companies putting non-essential hiring on hold, micro-sized firms face less competition in hiring the in-demand talent they need."
Separately, the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore released preliminary findings yesterday from an annual manpower survey of member companies, conducted from April to last month.
It found that 17 per cent of 110 senior executives said they would trim jobs in the medium term to save costs, while 76 per cent expect no change to headcount. The remaining 7 per cent plan to expand and hire more.
The report also noted that 20 per cent of multinationals plan to trim jobs here in the medium term, while 12 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises expect to do so.
Weaker hiring sentiment was also reported by JobStreet yesterday. It said job ads have dropped significantly in industries such as aerospace, grooming, beauty and fitness, retail, food and beverage, catering and restaurant, event management and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions.
In contrast, there was a 41 per cent increase in job ads for security and law enforcement posts, while science and technology posts recorded an increase of 20 per cent, with opportunities such as microbiologist, research fellow, laboratory technician and research assistant.
The top five industries actively hiring are: healthcare, education, banking and finance, government, and computing and information technology.
Job seekers were most interested in admin, data entry, driver, marketing and accountant jobs, based on the top searched keywords in April, JobStreet said.
In particular, searches for data entry jobs spiked by 162 per cent, which could be because recently retrenched workers were looking for a quick temporary job that does not require specific industry knowledge, said the firm.
"With the circuit breaker coming into effect in April, data entry jobs allow retrenched workers to work from home and still earn salaries to tide them over the difficult period."
It said it has added a new function to job seekers' profiles where they can indicate #WorkNow if they are available to start work immediately. Potential employers with urgent hiring needs will be able to search for such profiles easily.