Why It Matters

New skills vital in tough times

Office workers crossing the road at Robinson Road in the Central Business District March 24, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

The labour market is in trouble.

Latest figures from the Manpower Ministry show that job openings fell below the number of job seekers for the first time since 2012.

Just two years ago, the number of vacancies, which is indicative of the demand for labour by businesses, was at a record high.

Since then, it has been heading south. Coupled with the stagnant employment figures, they signal that companies are reducing their headcounts.

Other indicators paint a similarly sombre picture: Long-term unemployment for residents crept up, and layoffs rose in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year.

The situation is likely to worsen as there is a time lag before the labour market responds to the slow-moving economy.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said last month that the economy is expected to expand by 1 per cent to 2 per cent this year, lower than its earlier forecast of 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

Workers must prepare for tough times as they can no longer rely on a labour shortage to drive up their wages. In fact, they may need to lower their expectations of pay increases or job prospects.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and labour chief Chan Chun Sing said after the latest figures were out that Singaporeans need to brace themselves for trying times.

They added that more is being done to match people to better jobs, provided they take the initiative to go for training.

Workers can tap their SkillsFuture credits to sign up for courses under the national SkillsFuture movement, and learn new skills to take on jobs in the future economy. These range from infocommunications technology and coding to biomedical sciences.

As disruptive technologies are set to create more upsets, everyone, not just those out of work, should keep an eye on industries that are up and coming and those that are winding down - and prepare to pick up new skills that could help them go further in their current careers or land a new job.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'New skills vital in tough times'. Print Edition | Subscribe