Unemployment in Singapore has risen and could rise further, as some sectors of the economy continue to struggle, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.
The economy, however, is still growing, unlike previous slowdowns, he noted in an annual message ahead of May Day on Monday.
But it is going through a structural transition that requires more time and effort to pull through, he added, calling on workers to adapt and businesses to transform to seize opportunities being created.
Complementing his call, labour movement leaders Mary Liew and Chan Chun Sing said in their message that the National Trades Union Congress will step up efforts to train workers for today's and tomorrow's jobs.
Economists noted that though sectors like shipping remain tepid, areas such as healthcare and infocomm technology show promise.
The messages coincide with the release of preliminary job figures by the Manpower Ministry that show the fall in the number of people with jobs in the first three months of the year is the largest since the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak.
But the unemployment rate for residents last month remained unchanged from last December, at 3.2 per cent, after seasonal adjustments, yesterday's figures show.
Mr Lim noted retrenchments were on the rise, and resident unemployment rose to 3 per cent last year, after holding steady at around 2.8 per cent since 2012. The situation reflects the slowing economy, which grew by about 2 per cent in the past two years, down from an average of 4.5 per cent previously.
The rise in unemployment is still below the peaks recorded in the past 15 years: more than 5 per cent during the 2003 Sars outbreak, and more than 4 per cent during the 2009 global financial crisis, he said. But today's challenges are "no less daunting", he added.
The transition this time is less cyclical, more structural. "Some sectors are still under stress and unemployment could rise further."
Recovery too will be unlike those of past downturns. "More time and effort is needed to get through this transition completely," Mr Lim said.
Employers and workers need to be better and quicker in adopting technology, innovate faster and raise productivity to compete globally for investments and jobs. Workers need to cope with disruptions to jobs and learn new skills, he said. "There is no shortcut to success."
Mr Lim is confident that businesses and workers can make the transition and emerge stronger, as they have on previous occasions.
His optimism stems from the three-way partnership between the Government, employers and unions. The tripartite partnership is committed to helping businesses transform and workers cope with the economic changes, he said.
The NTUC's leaders also said they are expanding its Education and Training Fund for more workers to upgrade skills, and working with higher learning institutes to coach students in career planning.
NTUC is working with agencies to identify skills workers need to land future jobs and develop training courses in these fields.
Meanwhile, Singapore National Employers Federation president Robert Yap said the federation will work with bosses and the labour movement to strengthen lifelong learning and help lift productivity to grow the economy.