Firms can hire more locals amid manpower crunch as S'pore economic recovery picks up: Tan See Leng

The tight labour market is expected to ease in the coming months. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Employers facing a manpower crunch can consider hiring from the pool of about 15,000 locals who will be entering the job market in the coming months.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Monday (May 9) that as at April, there were 5,200 workers in short-term Covid-19 roles, such as safe distancing ambassadors and vaccination centre workers, who will be looking for new jobs as their contracts are ending.

Workforce Singapore and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute are supporting these workers in their job search.

Many of them came from the food and beverage (F&B) and retail sectors, and have relevant skills and experience, Dr Tan noted.

There were also 9,800 trainees still undergoing programmes under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package as at end February. The Jobs Taskforce chaired by Dr Tan is working with sector agencies to place them in suitable roles.

Another 1,200 workers in short-term Covid-19 roles will be re-deployed into longer-term roles, Dr Tan told Parliament in his response to employment-related questions from nine MPs.

He said that offering flexible work arrangements like flexi-time, flexi-place and part-time work can also help employers attract locals, who consist of Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).

"Part-time work can benefit both employers who need the manpower, and workers who will not only earn an income but also gain work experience for the future," said Dr Tan in response to Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party.

He noted that the number of local part-time workers in F&B services has remained stable over the last five years at around 35,000 on average, of whom around 15 per cent were students.

In the hard-hit tourism and aviation sectors, businesses can also tap additional foreign worker quotas which the Government will provide on a time-limited basis to help these industries rebound quickly and capture opportunities, said Dr Tan.

He was responding to Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), Ms Poh Li San (Sembawang GRC), Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) who had asked about government support for Singapore to reopen its economy and reconnect with the world.

The tight labour market, which Dr Tan said is largely due to Covid-19 and the balance due to cyclical forces, is expected to ease in the coming months as foreign employment rebounds after the significant relaxation of border restrictions.

"However, Covid-19 has underscored the importance of building resilient businesses, and this is all the more important given the uncertainties in the global geopolitical and economic environment. Over-reliance on foreign workers will leave businesses open to and vulnerable to disruptions," he said.

"Therefore, I encourage employers facing manpower shortages to utilise all the available support to press on with efforts to transform and become more manpower-lean, while tapping the available sources of local workers that still exist to build up their local manpower core."

Outlining other efforts to encourage businesses to hire locals, Dr Tan noted that the Jobs Growth Incentive has been extended to September this year to support the hiring of mature local workers aged 40 and over who have not worked for at least six months, persons with disabilities and former offenders.

Under the scheme, employers can receive up to $21,600 per eligible hire over a 12-month period.

The Small Business Recovery Grant will be disbursed from June this year. It provides $1,000 per local employee, and up to $10,000 per eligible firm in sectors most badly affected by Covid-19 restrictions.

The Tourism Careers Hub was also launched in January this year to facilitate job matching for locals, support upskilling and drive business transformation efforts, while the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is working with aviation firms to recall former employees and expand hiring.

Dr Tan said local employment grew by 71,300 last year, and the unemployment rate for locals has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

There continue to be many vacancies in outward-oriented industries such as information and communications and financial services.

Foreign employment growth has also started picking up pace after the Government progressively lifted border restrictions since late last year, said Dr Tan.

It increased in the fourth quarter for the first time in two years and picked up pace in the first quarter of this year, he added.

The number of work permit holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors is at over 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic numbers, having grown by more than 40,000 after reaching a two-year low in October last year, he said.

It was recently announced that from May 1, all fully vaccinated work pass holders and their dependants no longer require an entry approval to enter the country.

Said Dr Tan: "Our businesses now have fuller confidence to bring their work pass holders into Singapore, and the recent reopening of the Singapore-Malaysia land border should also further ease the labour market tightness in the months to come."

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