SINGAPORE, Sept 14 — With firms now filling more job positions, the total number of people employed here in the second quarter this year reached 99.5 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, fuelled by a “significant increase” in non-resident employment.

Total employment in the second quarter increased by 66,500, which was significantly higher than the 42,000 increase in the first quarter, a report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) today (September 14) showed.

In the second quarter alone, resident employment rose by 7,100, while non-resident employment increased by 59,400.

Across the first half of 2022, total employment ― which excludes foreign domestic workers — had expanded by 108,500, with the increase mainly contributed by non-residents (95,400), particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors, as “employers backfilled positions following the significant relaxation of border controls in April 2022”.

Non-resident employment “increased significantly as border restrictions were progressively lifted”, recovering from 15 per cent below pre-pandemic levels in March, to 10 per cent below pre-pandemic levels in June, MoM said.

The majority of the non-resident employment increases were attributed to the manufacturing and construction sector, while consumer-facing and tourism-related sectors have also begun to see a pick-up in non-resident employment.

“This should alleviate some of the manpower shortages in these sectors,” MoM said in its report.

At the same time, for the first half of the year, resident employment grew steadily by 13,100, with the largest increases in the financial and insurance services, information and communications, and professional services.

As a result, resident employment surpassed the pre-pandemic level in December 2019 by 4.2 per cent, growing at a similar rate as the previous quarter.

Job vacancies

As for job vacancies, the report said the figure fell marginally to 126,100 in June, down from a record high of 128,100 in March.

However, this is still a higher figure compared to in December last year, where the number of job vacancies stood at 117,100.

This is the first time after seven quarters that the number of job vacancies has dipped, though the number of available jobs still remained at “historical high levels” amid a tight labour market.

The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons edged up from 2.42 in March to 2.53 in June, as unemployment rates declined further.

The bulk of the job vacancies in June were from construction and manufacturing (22 per cent), as well as “growth sectors” (31 per cent) comprising the information and communications, financial and insurance Services, professional services and health and social services sector.

Another 17 per cent of vacancies in June this year came from the consumer-facing and tourism-related sectors such as the arts, entertainment and recreation, food and beverage services, accommodation, and retail trade sectors.

Retrenchment and unemployment

Retrenchment numbers are also at a record low, falling from 1,320 in March to 990 in June, and the incidence of retrenchment similarly improved from 0.6 to 0.5 per 1,000 employees over the same period.

Unemployment rates continued to edge down from March to June this year.

• Overall unemployment fell from 2.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent; resident unemployment fell from 3.0 per cent to 2.8 per cent, and citizen unemployment fell from 3.2 per cent to 3.0 per cent

• While the unemployment rate edged up among residents with diploma and professional qualifications, the increase was from a six-year low in March and the rate remained below its pre-Covid average, said MoM in its report.

The recruitment rate rose over the quarter, from 2.5 per cent in March to 2.6 in June, a rate that was last seen in 2014.

• Resignation rate remained stable at 1.7 per cent for the fourth consecutive quarter

• Over the quarter, accommodation and air transport and supporting services saw the largest increase in recruitment rates

• Other consumer-facing and tourism-related sectors also saw recruitment rate rise, as employers ramped up hiring to meet increased demand arising from the rollout of the Vaccinated Travel Framework, said MoM.

Labour market outlook

MoM said that with the significant easing of Singapore’s Covid-19 restrictions, business activities in sectors which had been badly affected by the pandemic are recovering and it is expected that non-resident employment will continue to “grow at a robust pace as it catches up to its pre-pandemic level”.

On the other hand, resident employment rates will likely see “subdued growth” due to low resident unemployment rate.

Tourism- and aviation-related sectors are expected to continue to benefit from the strong recovery in air passengers and international visitor arrivals, while the demand in consumer-facing sectors such as food and beverage services should remain robust with the easing of domestic and border restrictions.

External demand outlook has also weakened given the global economic slowdown.

“Global headwinds such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, inflationary pressures, geopolitical tensions in the region, and the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic may weigh on labour demand going forward, said MoM.

“As such, the labour market outlook is uneven across sectors.” Thus, growth in outward-oriented sectors like the finance and insurance services is expected to slow amid these global economic headwinds.

‘Not good’ that labour market is easing quickly

Speaking to the media at the MOM Building at Havelock Road, MoM permanent secretary Ng Chee Khern said there are different initiatives for resident employees and non-resident employees to address the record high job vacancies.

He said that for resident employees, the ministry is trying to raise the labour force participation rate, which is calculated as the labour force divided by the total working-age population.

For example, initiatives like more flexible work arrangements and all that is precisely to allow caregivers and older workers who want to do part-time work to have a bit more flexibility in their lives to get back in an increase the labour force participation rate,” he said.

For the non-resident labour force, Ng said that in addition to the current existing manpower sources, the ministry is also “exploring other sources from other countries to include in the number of potential workers that industries can employ”.

Asked if the job vacancies will be expected to go down by the end of the year, Ng cautioned that a fall in this statistic may not always be a good thing.

Global economic uncertainties, such as the United States Federal Reserve raising interest rates recently, have sparked fears of a recession in the country, and the recent news of Foodpanda’s retrenchment exercise should also serve as a warning that the labour market outlook is far from rosy.

“Be careful what you ask for... the labour demand could ease sooner than you think and it might not necessarily be a good situation,” he added.

“It is tight now, and we do expect some easing... but we actually hope that the easing isn’t too much.” ― TODAY