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Singapore's job vacancies to fall further; focus will be on reskilling workers, saving jobs

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While business is down, the government wants to work with employers to reskill and upskill their workers to prepare them for new job opportunities when the economy recovers, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

[SINGAPORE] Singapore saw fewer job vacancies overall last year but there were still many opportunities in growth sectors, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Friday.

Going forward, however, the uncertainties this year amid the coronavirus outbreak means vacancies are likely to fall further, she said.

"Hiring sentiments have weakened which means job seekers will have a more challenging time," said Mrs Teo in a Facebook post on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) report on job vacancies in 2019 which was released on Friday.

The report showed that despite economic uncertainties, like the US-China trade war, that resulted in fewer job vacancies, employers were still creating new jobs through business expansion and formation.

A total of 42 per cent of the 52,900 openings available last September were newly created positions from business expansion or formation.

The proportion was the same as in the previous year, though the number of openings was lower than the 63,300 available in September 2018.

For this year, Mrs Teo said: "The focus must be to help as many people as possible stay in their current jobs. We can then direct job matching support to those who need it most.

"This is similar to our approach in handling the public health crisis - keep most people away from hospitals, so healthcare workers have the capacity to focus on treating those who have more serious conditions," she said.

This is why the S$4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package announced last month had a strong focus on saving jobs and protecting workers, and any further boost will do likewise, as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said, she added.

"This is a tough time. MOM is here to help. Our lines are sometimes overwhelmed, as are our officers. I seek your kind patience as we try our best to respond to everyone who has reached out," Mrs Teo said.

The MOM report, which is based on a survey of about 15,300 private and public sector organisations, said that the top industries with new positions last year were construction, information and communications technology (ICT), and security and investigation.

Other sectors identified by the Singapore government as growth sectors - professional services, financial and insurance services, wholesale trade and healthcare - also saw above average proportions of vacancies for newly created positions.

Among jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), the most sought after workers last year were software, Web and multimedia developers; teaching and training professionals and systems analysts.

For non-PMET workers, the top number of openings were for security guards; receptionists, customer service and information clerks; and shop sales assistants.

Skilled workers were increasingly in demand, with the share of vacancies for PMETs rising to 58 per cent last year, up from 53 per cent the previous year.

The proportion has been on the rise since 2013, and reflects a growing share of vacancies coming from industries dominated by PMETs, such as public administration and education, ICT, and health and social services.

For PMET vacancies, employers valued candidates' skills, work experience, and attitude over academic qualifications for about half (50.6 per cent) of the vacancies.

"This underscores the need for job seekers to reskill and upskill to stay relevant to changing job requirements," said MOM in the report.

Mrs Teo also highlighted the jobs-skills mismatch in her post as a longer-term issue that still needs to be tackled.

While business is down, the government wants to work with employers to reskill and upskill their workers to prepare them for new job opportunities when the economy recovers, she said.

"That may be a long way off, but it's still a good way to make something out of very bad situation."

The lack of necessary skills was the top challenge faced by employers trying to fill PMET vacancies, said MOM. It was cited by employers for four in 10 of the PMET vacancies they had trouble hiring locals for.

Other top reasons were candidates lacking necessary work experience, and finding the pay unattractive.

For non-PMET positions which were hard to fill with locals, the top three reasons were candidates finding the pay unattractive, finding the job physically strenuous, or preferring not to do shift work.

In general, PMET openings were easier to fill than non-PMET ones. Some 19 per cent of PMET vacancies were unfilled for at least six months, compared with 41 per cent of non-PMET vacancies.

The overall share of vacancies which remained unfilled for at least six months also fell to 28 per cent last year, the lowest in at least a decade.

THE STRAITS TIMES