Unemployment up as more look for work amid economic pickup

Labour economist Walter Theseira said the continuing difficulty that PMETs face in re-entering employment is an area of concern.
Labour economist Walter Theseira said the continuing difficulty that PMETs face in re-entering employment is an area of concern.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

But total employment in Q2 grows by 6,500 as vacancies hit a high of 56,700; 79% of retrenched residents are PMETs

Unemployment inched up in the second quarter, as more people re-entered the job market to look for work amid a pickup in the economy.

While there were more layoffs in the quarter, the numbers were lower than in the same period a year ago, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

The overall unemployment rate rose from 2 per cent as at March 31 to 2.1 per cent at the end of June. The level for Singapore citizens went from 3 per cent to 3.1 per cent, said MOM's quarterly labour market report.

The increasingly buoyant economy prompted more people to enter the labour market to look for work, which added to the unemployment count.

The report also found that the resident long-term unemployment rate grew from 0.7 per cent in March to 0.8 per cent in June. This rate, which has not moved much in two years, measures the proportion of the resident labour force that has been unemployed for at least 25 weeks.

Layoffs increased from 2,320 in the first quarter to 3,030 in the second as well. This was lower than in the same period a year ago.

"Business restructuring and re-organisation remained the top reason for retrenchment across industries," said the ministry.

The bulk of layoffs came from the services sector, with professionals, managers, executives and technicians - the PMETs - comprising 79 per cent of all retrenched residents.

"As restructuring picks up pace amid increased economic activity, jobs and skills mismatches will continue to be a challenge," said MOM. It urged workers and companies to be responsive to changes.

 
 

Labour MP Patrick Tay noted in a Facebook post yesterday that this mismatch will likely continue to be a main cause of unemployment.

While it is unclear if PMETs are more exposed to retrenchment, labour economist Walter Theseira said the continuing difficulty that PMETs face in re-entering employment is an area of concern.

These workers have more specialised skills and higher expectations, he noted, making it harder for them to find the best fit.

"They are also likely to have more financial resilience, so they will not always feel they need to accept work that is available but (which is) not as good as their previous job," noted Dr Theseira.

But the overall employment situation is looking up, as more people found jobs in the first half.

Total employment grew by 6,500 in the second quarter, a larger rise than in the first quarter. This was driven mainly by the services sector.

Local employment growth for the first half of the year was more than 1.5 times that of the year before as well.

Job vacancies rose to a three-year high of 56,700 as at June 30.

MOM said manufacturing employment continued to fall in the first half of the year due to a dip in work permit holders in the marine shipyard sector.

It was a similar story in construction, which lost 6,400 jobs amid continued weakness in the sector.

Labour demand is expected to pick up in the months ahead, in line with seasonal hiring.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2018, with the headline 'Unemployment up as more look for work amid economic pickup'. Print Edition | Subscribe