2019 was a rocky year for the global economy. Singapore was no exception, having experienced a mixed bag throughout the year. However, total employment within the city state grew in the third quarter this year. Unfortunately, unemployment rate also saw an increase at the same time.

This indicates that while more jobs are being created and filled, many workers might still be struggling to find employment due to various reasons. One possible factor that comes to mind is that these workers lack the skills desired to fill these positions.

“The jobs and skills mismatch will not go away. In fact we must expect it,” said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a media briefing ahead the report from her ministry on 12 December 2019.

A statement from the ministry also suggested that employer at this time were possibly taking a more cautious stance towards hiring, due to the current unpredictable economic climate.

Total employment, excluding foreign domestic workers (FDWs), grew by a revised 21,700 between July and September – more than three times the job growth of 6,200 in the preceding quarter.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 2.3 percent, up from 2.2 percent in the April to June quarter.

Unfortunately, there were fewer job vacancies available than the number of unemployed people chasing jobs. This ratio fell to 0.83 in September, indicating that there were around eight vacancies for every 10 unemployed people. Mrs Teo suggests that the number of job vacancies is an indicator that the confidence is still in a rather tenuous place.

Overall, there is still reason to celebrate. The higher employment growth suggests that there was still some resilience in the employment market due to the growth despite economic headwinds.

The ministry’s report noted that total employment growth, excluding FDWs, between January and September stood at 38,600, the highest in five years, reflecting a rebound in the construction sector.

The construction sector alone added 5,400 workers in the third quarter, when it had shed 300 a year earlier.

The service sector added the most number of jobs, with 15,300 in the third quarter. Modern services such as finance, insurance, and professional services, accounted for many of them. The health and social services sector also saw a boost in workers hired.

In contrast, the retail trade sector shed 1,200 jobs.

The report also noted that the unemployment rate crept up and there were 74,200 residents, of which 64,600 were Singaporeans, unemployed in September.

The unemployment rate for residents with below secondary school qualifications continued to increase, as employment growth was concentrated in higher-skilled sectors, the report noted.

Commentating on the changing landscape, Associate Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School said digital transformation cuts both ways.

“On the one hand, it creates new opportunities and hence employment growth,” he said. “On the other, it may require workers who can be ready for the change – this may affect people looking for work or even existing workers who need the new skills.”


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