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Thursday January 24th 2019

Graduates dealt harder jobs blow (ST 16 Dec)

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DESPITE signs of a turnaround in the job market, university graduates are no better off.

In fact, more of them are without jobs and taking longer to land a job, according to revised official figures released yesterday.

Part of the reason is that they often tend to seek jobs that pay close to what they used to earn, said MP Josephine Teo, who is also assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

However, economists interviewed foresee their lot improving in the new year, when growth is expected to hit 5.5 per cent, according to a recent poll of 20 private-sector economists by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Meanwhile, the labour market in the third quarter, following Singapore’s exit from recession, shows ‘encouraging signs of a turnaround’, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The revised figures show more jobs were added, fewer people were laid off and there were more vacancies between June and September.

In all, employment grew by 14,000, offsetting the 13,900 jobs lost in the first half of this year. Still, the resident unemployment rate among Singaporeans and permanent residents hit 5 per cent, a five-year high.

Also, more residents, regardless of their education level, are taking beyond six months to get a job.

Known technically as the long-term unemployed, their numbers have doubled, from 9,600 in the third quarter last year to 18,400 in September this year.

Worst off are university graduates. Their numbers have swelled from 1,600 to 4,700, which works out to one in four of these unemployeds.

It is the same story in other areas.

Degree-holders form more than one-third of workers made redundant, either retrenched or released prematurely from their contracts. They form 36 per cent of the 2,470 workers made redundant, although they make up only 27 per cent of Singapore’s workforce of two million.

It is a similar situation with the re-hiring of laid-off residents. Though this re-employment rate rose for workers at all educational levels, the rate for graduates remains the lowest, at 44.4 per cent.

It was the same case in the second quarter, when it was 39.3 per cent.

MP Josephine Teo said graduates tend to hold jobs, such as supervisors, which are the first to be chopped in a downturn.

She also said retrenched graduates typically take longer to find jobs because they have savings to fall back on and look for work that pays almost as much as their previous job.

Graduate Chris Lim seems to fit the mould. The 31-year-old has been jobless since she quit her marketing job in a bank in June last year. She had wanted a similar job in the service industry but the economic crisis has made it tough.

Said the business administration graduate: ‘I’ve had a few job offers but I rejected them because they weren’t suitable. I’m not super desperate because I have some savings.’

She is working part-time as a receptionist and is hopeful because headhunters are calling her more often now.

MOM, in its statement, said organisations and jobseekers should not be discouraged by the slight rise in the unemployment rate to 3.4 per cent, from 3.3 per cent in the first two quarters. It also pointed out the 5 per cent resident unemployment rate is below the record 6.2 per cent in 2003 during the Sars outbreak.

Economists say the peculiar situation of jobs growth coupled with high unemployment is a result of more residents entering the job market as the economy improves.

Singapore, which came out of recession at the end of June, grew by 14.2 per cent in the third quarter,

Also, the rise in the unemployment rate could be due to a mismatch between skills and jobs.

Economist Tan Khee Giap expects the resident jobless rate to fall by next June.

But there is a need to shorten the time the jobless take to find work, he added.

Ms Heather Chua of hiring firm Kelly Services noted that 50 per cent of residents retrenched in the second quarter found work in the third quarter.

‘This is a strong indication more companies are positioning themselves to prepare for the nascent recovery,’ she said.

However, MOM’s Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, noted that the unemployment rate is likely to stay up for some time as employers remain cautious about the pace and sustainability of recovery.

He said: ‘The Government remains focused on job creation and training, while those who are unemployed are encouraged to retrain and re-skill so that they can find a job as quickly as possible.’

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