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S’pore jobless rate inches up in Q1 but remains low

Preliminary estimates showed that the seasonally-adjusted overall unemployment rate rose to 2.1 per cent in March from 1.8 per cent in December 2013, according to the latest report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the employment situation released on Wednesday.

SINGAPORE: Unemployment remained low, despite rising slightly in the first quarter of 2014.

Preliminary estimates showed that the seasonally-adjusted overall unemployment rate rose to 2.1 per cent in March from 1.8 per cent in December 2013.

This is according to the latest report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the employment situation released on Wednesday.

Experts attribute the 0.3 percentage-point increase in the jobless rate to skills mismatch in the labour market.

At 2.1 per cent, Singapore's jobless rate is still one of the lowest in the world.

However, the current quarterly unemployment figure is Singapore's highest since December 2011.

And, it has taken one labour economist by surprise.

SIM University's deputy director (Centre for Applied Research), Associate Professor Randolph Tan, said: "Usually we don't see that much of a jump from quarter to quarter, even for cyclical reasons.

"So, I think one of the more pessimistic notes that one could read into this, is that there may be some kind of skills mismatch occurring in the labour force.

"The unemployment pool is not providing enough of skills supply for the needs of businesses at this point in time as we go through this restructuring phase."

Experts also attribute the rise in unemployment to recent changes in government policy.

Kelly Services country general manager Mark Hall said: "As a result of the Personal Data Protection Act, companies may have adjusted their workforce to comply with the standards.

"They may see that their sales force aren't allowed to do some of the activities they were used to doing before. So, they may not need the total staff that they need today."

In addition, Mr Hall said companies are taking a longer time to recruit.

He said: "We've seen companies tightening their recruitment process, and also lengthening their recruitment cycles. These could be because they are being more selective, and aligning to government initiatives such as 'Singapore first' policies."

The government has said that it is committed to help workers adapt to the new economic environment. One key area it is focusing on is continuous learning and skills upgrading. To support workers better, the Continuing Education and Training system will be undergoing a major review.

HR practitioners believe continuous training is important for workers to enhance their employability.

Adecco Asia's regional head for marketing and communications, Ian Grundy, said: "We are seeing certain types of jobs that once existed and were very popular are now no longer so, and if you're someone who's more mature at the later stage of your career and you still have a few years to go, it's absolutely essentially to retrain and re-skill, and the government is offering some programmes in that way."

The Manpower Ministry's report also indicates a slowdown in total employment.

For the first quarter this year, total employment grew by 24,900.

The number is the lowest since the second quarter of 2011.

SIM University's Associate Professor Tan said the most significant aspect of the slowdown in employment growth is that it is now closer to the target of making it to what is sustainable, based on Singapore's national population growth rate.

He said: "If we have employment growth rates close to 4 per cent a year, as we've seen for the entire 2013, that rate of growth is not sustainable in the long term, because it would bring us back to the situation where we are going to test our infrastructural limits. So, from a policy-making perspective, this lower growth is not a bad thing."

The MOM report also highlighted that layoffs had declined after rising in the preceding quarter.

Some 2,900 workers were made redundant in the first quarter of this year, lower than the 3,660 workers affected in the last quarter of 2013. 

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