Job vacancies to fall further amid Covid-19 impact, traineeships will allow job seekers to gain valuable skills: Josephine Teo

Preliminary data put the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people at 0.71 in March. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The number of job vacancies has been falling but has not hit the bottom yet and retrenchments are likely to spike in the coming months, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Friday (May 29).

The uncertain outlook has prompted the Government to roll out more traineeships, especially for mid-career job seekers, so that they can gain work experience while waiting for a permanent position.

"You are going to have many, many more job seekers than jobs available, because this is unprecedented. You've never seen a pandemic hit us like that," said Mrs Teo in a video interview with the media. "We will have to activate every possible channel of opportunities, mobilise them as quickly as we can, and ... help Singaporeans get into these opportunities."

Preliminary data put the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed people at 0.71 in March - much higher than the low of 0.37 reached in March 2009 during the global financial crisis, Mrs Teo said.

But there have already been instances of job offers being revoked and companies scaling back hiring, she noted.

Retrenchments may spike after the higher wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme - which were raised for the circuit breaker period - taper off for some firms once the circuit breaker ends on June 1.

Mrs Teo noted that there is now a mismatch in terms of timing, where job seekers are eager to get into a post but employers are not ready to hire because they do not know when business will pick up again. More importantly, there will be a large shortage of job vacancies.

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 companies have notified the Manpower Ministry since March 12 that they have adjusted pay or introduced cost saving measures.

These have impacted about 150,000 local and foreign employees - less than 5 per cent of the workforce.

Only employers who have at least 10 staff and who cut local workers' gross monthly salaries or foreign workers' basic monthly salaries by more than 25 per cent need notify the ministry.

Mrs Teo said employers and employees appear to be coming to mutually acceptable pay arrangements so the business can survive and workers can keep their jobs.

The new traineeships were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he unveiled the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package in his third supplementary budget speech, dubbed the Fortitude Budget, on Tuesday (May 26).

It aims to create 21,000 traineeships this year targeted at young people, up from the 8,000 initially announced in the Resilience Budget in March. A further 4,000 will be set up for unemployed mid-career job seekers.

Recent and new graduates can apply for traineeships on the portal from June 1.

Mrs Teo said over 1,000 companies have committed to offering 11,000 traineeships.

More details will be provided later on the traineeships for mid-career workers, but Mrs Teo said she hopes to get the support of the newly formed National Jobs Council to expand the mid-career opportunities further.

She noted that offering traineeships for mid-career workers will be more challenging than for fresh graduates, as companies have to devise a plan that matches their capabilities.

The workers may also have to accept a role that is different from what they were used to, with adjusted pay.

But if the programmes are curated well, and there is meaningful work to be done, it will lead to eventual employment for the workers, she said.

"It will get them to a job, maybe not with the same company or industry, but the experience is worth something and can be a springboard," she said.

Mrs Teo noted that it will be a win-win situation for employers and job seekers if mid-career traineeships can take off on a massive scale.

Job seekers will get attachments in companies that may be more beneficial than a classroom training stint, while the companies get skilled workers, she said.

She also acknowledged that businesses are already very stretched and may find it difficult to pay a decent stipend to trainees but added that the Government can provide funding and help companies see the value proposition of the scheme.

Workforce Singapore co-funds 80 per cent of the qualifying training allowance for host companies offering traineeships for young locals, with the remaining being funded by the employer.

The traineeships come on top of other "pathways" to help people affected by the poor job prospects due to Covid-19, said Mrs Teo.

These include creating positions, such as the more than 40,000 jobs that the public and private sectors aim to generate through the SGUnited Jobs initiative.

Some of the vacancies will stem from bringing forward public sector hiring plans such as at the recently set up Home Team Science and Technology Academy and at government-supported pre-school operators that were supposed to expand.

There are also skills training places, as well as career conversion programmes to help job seekers enter new occupations.

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