THE job-creation machine is humming again. A pick-up in public-sector projects and a stronger services sector in the second quarter have helped reverse the fall in jobs in the first three months of the year, the first quarterly drop since 2009.
Overall employment was up 15,700 between April and June, after taking into account jobs added or lost in the various sectors.
The services sector added 11,400 jobs, after having added just 4,300 in the first quarter; the construction sector added 7,800 jobs, after dipping by 3,600 jobs over that period.
The Ministry of Manpower's latest preliminary report on the local jobs situation noted on Thursday that manufacturing jobs continued declining in the second quarter, though the loss was smaller - 3,500 against 6,900 in the first quarter.
The total jobs picture in the second quarter looked definitely brighter than the first, when 6,100 jobs were lost. But the number is still far short of the 27,700 jobs created in the second quarter last year.
"Taken as a whole, employment growth in the first half of 2015 has moderated compared to a year ago," the ministry said in a statement.
Private-sector economists are expecting job growth to ease for the full year, with the economic conditions not looking too good ahead.
Selena Ling, OCBC Bank's head of Treasury Research & Strategy, said: "Full-year job growth prospects are likely to be a significant moderation from 2014's 130,000 jobs created, as the first half of 2015 saw only 9,600 jobs created and the global and regional economic outlook remains clouded by China's slowdown and the potential US Federal Reserve's policy normalisation."
Citigroup's Kit Wei Zheng estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 jobs have to be produced each year in Singapore to stop the jobless rate from rising.
"Despite a pickup in the second quarter job creation, first-half-2015 job creation at 9,600 was one-sixth of 56,000 jobs created in the first-half of 2014," he noted. The jobless rate is thus likely to rise further.
A softer economy has pushed the jobless rate up from a seasonally-adjusted 1.8 per cent in March to 2.0 per cent in June, said the employment situation report. Among residents - Singaporeans and permanent residents - the rate rose from 2.5 to 2.8 per cent.
Recently appointed Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say is not too bothered by the lower employment growth. He wrote in his blog: "This is not unexpected because we are slowing down the increase of foreign manpower, and at the same time, speeding up the development of a stronger Singaporean core in all major sectors of our economy."
But he is concerned about the uptick in the jobless rate. "It is still low, but has crept up from 2.6 to 2.9 per cent for citizens, even though the labour market is still tight. We must make sure this is not due to a growing mismatch between the skills and expectations of job seekers versus the skills requirements and jobs offerings from employers."
Still, Leila Richard of recruitment firm Adecco thinks that overall, the second-quarter job figures are "optimistic". "The labour market looks good - still employee-driven," she said. "The only challenge is attracting talent. Low employment means skills shortage and higher competition in hiring passive or active candidates."
Though the pace of increase has eased a bit, there were 3.63 million people working in June - 2.4 per cent more than a year ago. Layoffs slipped for a second straight quarter, with 3,100 workers axed; the number made redundant in the first quarter was 3,500. The latest layoffs were still more than the 2,410 in the second quarter of 2014; they were largely in the services sector.