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Job prospects in Singapore positive despite economic worries: Poll

SINGAPORE – Job prospects in Singapore are looking up despite the global economic uncertainties, with nearly half of employers polled here planning to continue to hire in the last quarter of 2023.

A total of 48 per cent of the respondents expect to increase their staffing levels in the fourth quarter. Another 12 per cent anticipate a decrease, while 38 per cent of employers reported no plans to change their headcount, and 2 per cent were unsure.

This brought the seasonally adjusted net employment outlook for the fourth quarter to 36 per cent, up 2 percentage points when compared with the previous quarter, and matching the figure from the fourth quarter of 2022.

The net employment outlook is a measure of hiring optimism, based on the percentage of companies surveyed that intend to take on new staff and deducting the percentage that intend to scale down on their workforce.

The survey of 510 public and private sector employers was conducted in July 2023 by recruitment company ManpowerGroup, and the results were released on Tuesday.

It was also conducted in 40 other markets, including the United States, Hong Kong and Japan.

In Singapore, all nine sectors surveyed are expecting staffing levels to increase. This includes industries such as healthcare and life sciences, communication services and information technology, among others.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore, said: “Employers are maintaining a confident but cautious outlook towards their hiring activity, continuing to grapple with the global economic slowdown and talent shortage concerns.”

Singapore downgraded its 2023 economic growth forecast in August amid a weak outlook for the export-driven manufacturing sector.

However, the Ministry of Trade and Industry had said then that the new forecast of between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent – down from the 0.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent range forecast earlier – still means relatively higher growth is expected in the second half of the year compared with the first half.

Associate Professor in Practice Terence Ho of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore explained that when looking at the employment outlook against Singapore’s economic growth, it is important to note that expert-oriented sectors have a large weight in the Republic’s gross domestic product versus domestic sectors which have a larger share of employment.

He said: “It is noteworthy that employers across all nine sectors surveyed maintained expectations of staffing gains. These findings reflect a labour market that remains tight, especially in domestic services sectors such as healthcare, transport and logistics where demand remains strong.

“This contrasts with the slowdown in economic activity in export-oriented sectors, which tend to be more capital rather than labour-intensive.”

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According to the survey, the transport, logistics and automotive sector has the strongest employment outlook, with a net 60 per cent of employers intending to hire in the next quarter. The hiring outlook for this sector grew by 38 percentage points on a year-on-year basis.

OCBC Bank chief economist Selena Ling said: “Momentum has accelerated for the transport sector, mostly from the air transport industry due to the return of international travel, but also the marine transport industry.

“The waves of Chinese visitors have been improving, but overall demand conditions may cool as we head into 2024.”

The healthcare and life sciences sector also indicated strong hiring prospects, with a net employment outlook of 53 per cent, up 20 percentage points year on year.

But not all industries indicated stronger growth. In particular, the consumer goods and services sector reported the lowest employment outlook of the nine sectors surveyed, at just 23 per cent. This is 22 percentage points lower than the previous quarter, and 17 percentage points down when compared with the same period in 2022.

Ms Ling said: “For consumer goods, the business expectations have been dampened by China’s disappointing economic data and policy response, as well as expectations that the domestic labour market may cool.”

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Still, more than eight in 10 of the employers polled indicated that they are facing a shortage of talent. Therefore, hiring managers are indicating more inclusive and flexible approaches to address the talent crunch, said ManpowerGroup.

Some 35 per cent of employers are willing to hire applicants who are older and seeking employment or career change.

Also, 29 per cent are open to hiring those who have been previously unemployed due to caretaking responsibilities.

ManpowerGroup said: “This pattern holds true across all organisation sizes, suggesting that older workers, with their domain knowledge and work experience, are still valued by firms.”

Ms Teo added that while it is encouraging to see that companies are willing to hire older applicants, “more must be done to ensure that older workers remain valued in a competitive job market”.

Employers were also asked for the traits they prioritise when reviewing job applicants. Communication, collaboration and teamwork skills; critical thinking and analysis skills; as well as resilience, stress tolerance and adaptability were the prime soft skills that firms are on the lookout for.

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