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SINGAPORE: Employment in Singapore grew in the first quarter of 2021 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, advance estimates released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) showed on Wednesday (Apr 28).

Resident employment grew at a moderated pace but outstripped a smaller decline in non-resident employment, said MOM in a media release. As a result, total employment saw “modest expansion” in the first three months of 2021, after four quarters of decline.

Calling this a “significant turn”, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that it suggests that confidence among employers is returning.

“These advance estimates are very encouraging, indeed, that the economy, and the job market, in particular, continued to recover. And the recovery was of a good enough pace that for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2019 (that) overall employment expanded,” said Mrs Teo after a visit to the NTUC Learning Hub at Bras Basah on Wednesday.

The number of retrenchments also declined for the second consecutive quarter, to a level usually observed in 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, unemployment rates remained elevated but eased further in March.

READ: MAS sees continued ‘steady’ recovery in labour market, resident unemployment rate to fall further

READ: Singapore’s sharpest fall in employment in more than 20 years borne by non-resident workers: MOM

However, Mrs Teo also urged caution due to the uncertainty in the COVID-19 pandemic globally.

“I would say that the job market looks to have improved, but I would urge that we remain very cautious, and that anything can still happen given how the public health situation is evolving very quickly around the world.”

The advance estimates are derived primarily using data from January and February and are subject to revisions. This year’s first-quarter labour market report will be released in mid-June.

MORE JOBS IN SERVICES

In the first quarter of 2021, the bulk of the employment increases were in services, said MOM. Service sectors such as Information & Communications, Financial Services, and Professional Services “continued to see employment expansion”, the ministry said.

Construction saw a slight rebound, as the contraction in non-resident employment moderated significantly while employment in manufacturing continued to contract, but at a slower pace.

Unemployment rates also dipped again in March from 3.0 per cent to 2.9 per cent. The resident unemployment rate fell from 4.1 per cent to 4 per cent, and the citizen unemployment rate also dropped 0.1 percentage point to 4.2 per cent.

“Since peaking in September 2020, unemployment rates have fallen steadily over the past two quarters, though still remaining elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 rates,” MOM said.

RETRENCHMENTS EXPECTED TO FALL TO PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS

Retrenchments are expected to decline to 2,100, which is a level usually seen in pre-pandemic times of 2018 and 2019, said MOM.

This would be a second quarter of decline following a peak in Q3 2020 when retrenchments reached 9,120. The incidence of retrenchment is also expected to decline from 2.8 retrenched per 1,000 employees in the last quarter of 2020 to 1.1 in Q1 2021.

However, there could still be “pockets of job displacements” due to ongoing restructuring and reorganisation and the labour market is still not fully back to pre-COVID-19 conditions. As a result of travel restrictions, hiring remains subdued in sectors such as construction and hospitality, said MOM.

MOM added that travel restrictions will impact inflows of work pass holders in the near future.

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Employers are strongly encouraged to leverage schemes that support reskilling and expand local hiring, and to consider a wider pool of candidates,” it said.

The ministry also encouraged both employers and job seekers to “keep an open mind” as the profile of job vacancies has changed.

“More vacancies are being created to meet new business requirements rather than to replace resigned staff. MOM encourages employers and jobseekers to keep an open mind to new opportunities and make full use of the programmes and services that have been made available.”

Mrs Teo said that the pattern of job vacancies is leaning towards new skills requirements.

“In order to meet these new skills requirements, the candidates certainly have transferable skills, but if they are able to top it up, then I think it will also expand their choices,” she said.

She added that the ministry is still concerned about people who have been looking for jobs for six months or more, and encouraged them to sign up for MOM schemes to help jobseekers such as the SGUnited Traineeships and mid-career programmes.

“The emphasis on helping those who have been taking a while longer to get back into the workforce must continue,” said Mrs Teo.

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