Manpower shortages in security, cleaning and logistics sectors amid Covid-19 pandemic

The Straits Times' Charmaine Ng looks at how home-grown companies in the security, cleaning and logistics sectors are coping with the manpower shortage caused by Covid-19 restrictions: Some sectors see wages pushed up; others struggle to find S'poreans keen to take up job

Companies in the cleaning industry say demand has doubled along with the amount of work.
Companies in the cleaning industry say demand has doubled along with the amount of work.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

It is not doom and gloom on the jobs front for some sectors in Singapore, eight months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The security, logistics and cleaning sectors are, in fact, facing manpower shortages.

In the security industry, for instance, demand for officers in some locations such as dormitories has pushed up salaries quite a bit.

One advertisement posted online, for security officers in "green zone" dormitories - those cleared of Covid-19 - offered a gross monthly salary of $3,200.

A survey conducted by the Union of Security Employees and the Singapore University of Social Sciences between January and February found the median average monthly take-home pay for a security officer was $1,975.

The president of the Security Association Singapore, Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, said wage rates for security officers had risen sharply, especially at sites with a heightened risk of exposure to Covid-19 such as "red zone" dormitories - those that have yet to be cleared of Covid-19.

"Buyers need to be prepared to pay higher prices as the demand now far outstrips the number of persons with security licences," he said.

He added that since the pandemic broke out, demand for security officers has increased by around 10 per cent to 20 per cent, or roughly 5,000 to 10,000 positions, of which the majority are for ancillary roles such as temperature takers and front-line staff.

Most of these positions are being filled by security officers working on an ad hoc basis, he said.

"We expect that as the Covid-19 measures wind down, these positions will also gradually reduce in number," said Mr Thomas.

"However, as we expect that temperature screening, mandatory SafeEntry registrations and declarations are likely to continue for some time, there is potential for ad hoc positions to be converted to full time - with the caveat that persons employed in this roles must be prepared to be redeployed once their positions are made redundant."

The cleaning and logistics sectors, which often rely on foreign workers, are also facing a squeeze on manpower.

Companies in the cleaning industry say demand has doubled along with the amount of work. The frequency of cleaning and disinfection has increased to at least once a day at several places such as offices, gyms and shopping malls.

To help the industry meet the increased demand, the National Environment Agency enhanced the Environmental Services Productivity Solutions Grant in April. It supports up to 80 per cent of the cost of cleaning solutions to raise the operational efficiency and productivity of commercial businesses, capped at $350,000 per company.

This comes as hiring more cleaners has proven to be difficult.

Said Mr Bryan Goh, the company director of A1 Facility Services: "We did put out more job ads, but very few Singaporeans want to do this kind of job. And now that the border is closed, we can't hire more foreign workers, so we have no choice but to charge our clients much more."

Singapore Logistics Association chairman Dave Ng said the logistics sector is also seeing more hiring in areas related to home deliveries and e-commerce, for non-PMET (professional, manager, executive and technician) roles.

But most Singaporeans are not keen to take up these positions, he added. "For the longest time, these jobs have been taken up by foreigners. So Singaporeans in this sector have been in supervisory or management roles. It's very difficult to ask them to 'reverse' and do all these jobs," said Mr Ng.

The pandemic has spurred more logistics companies to transform their business in the face of these challenges, he added.

"Covid-19 is a good example of why we needed to embark on the Industry Transformation Map (ITM). Nobody praised the ITM four years ago - people said it was a waste of time and resources. But those who did so, their systems are already in place and they are fully taking advantage of it now," he said.

Correction note: An earlier version of the story stated that the Environmental Services Productivity Solutions Grant was enhanced in August. This has been corrected. We are sorry for the error.   

Management has to do the work when staff 'go missing'

A1 Facility Services employs between 100 and 200 staff, but is still facing a manpower shortage, with more people wanting more disinfection services. PHOTO: A1 FACILITY SERVICES

Demand for cleaning and disinfection services has doubled for A1 Facility Services amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Business is so good that 29-year-old founder and director Bryan Goh has stepped in to do the work himself on a few occasions, largely because he cannot get enough workers.

The company, which has seen its revenue increase by 30 per cent, has tried to hire more Singaporeans by putting up more job ads, but some of those who are employed "go missing" after a while, he said.


Many taking up security training as back-up or to supplement income

A security guard manning a temperature screening point at SGX Centre 2. To urge people to enter the security sector, some industry players have called for allowing job seekers to defer training for positions at non-sensitive sites, such as temperatur
To urge people to enter the security sector, some industry players have called for allowing job seekers to defer training for positions at non-sensitive sites, such as temperature taking at construction sites. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Mohamed Sameer, a 30-year-old junior officer on a ship, spends two weeks out at sea before returning to shore for two weeks of rest.

He wants to use those two weeks of downtime to supplement his income by working as a relief security guard for eight days, earning about $100 to $120 daily.

But he has to undergo training first and must complete three modules: threat observation (recognise terrorist threats); guard and patrol (provide guard and patrol services); and incident response (handle security incidents and services).


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2020, with the headline 'Some firms face labour crunch as demand grows amid pandemic'. Subscribe