Preparing for unpredictability

Preparing for unpredictability

Kang Wan Chern
11/12/16, 12:46 pm

SINGAPORE (Dec 11): It has been an interesting year for jobs and employment in Singapore. On the one hand, jobs have been harder to come by, and more people are clinging on to their positions at work because of a lack of options.

Yet, for the first time since 2012, job vacancies outnumbered job seekers, suggesting some kind of mismatch.

For the most part, the difficulty in finding new jobs has been attributed to a slowing economy.

With softening demand for physical goods worldwide, exports out of Singapore have been under pressure.

In the offshore and marine, biomedical and electronics sectors, many have been retrenched as a result of shrinking business operations and restructuring exercises.

Now, the number of redundancies in the local services industry, which employs more than 70% of the workforce, is rising too.

And the financial services and insurance sector is among the worst hit.

Another important reason that employment is shrinking in this sector is technology disruption.

With the adoption of financial technology, or fintech, demand for traditional skills in the sector is waning and many jobs are becoming obsolete.

For instance, the rising use of mobile banking applications and robo-advisers is already beginning to put pressure on bank tellers and stockbrokers.

In fact, technology is displacing jobs in other industries as well. For instance, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab are upending the transportation sector, while the likes of Airbnb are affecting the hospitality business.

“We are living in an age when we will see the disappearance of jobs as a result of automation and technological disruption. Currently, 45% to 60% of occupations such as accountants and  engineers will be automated,” says Arnoud De Meyer, president of the Singapore Management University.

Indeed, employment in the engineering sector has decreased by more than 15% from 2010 to 2015, according to a Nov 1 skills report by SMU and JPMorgan.

Yet, even as technological disruption is making some jobs obsolete, it is creating demand for new jobs. According to MAS, jobs for employees armed with specific skills in selected sectors are still available and very much in demand.

“These include professionals in IT, engineering and finance, as well as healthcare workers and early childhood educators. Increasingly, more specialised skills would be needed to take on these new jobs,” MAS says in its review.

Demand for digital and data analytics skills in manufacturing, logistics, hospitality as well as financial services and insurance is also expected to rise in the years ahead, which could push wages higher. Already, salary growth forecasts for banking in 2017 are well below those in fintech, according to a survey by HR consultancy Towers Watson.

In fact, salary growth in the banking space was among the lowest in the economy this year, at 2.7%. In contrast, workers in the IT space, which includes fintech, enjoyed the highest average base salary increase of 11% from 2014 to 2016 in Singapore.

So did Singapore fail to preempt the current trends in the labour market? What can be done to prepare the workforce for further disruptions?

To find out more, read the cover story of this week’s The Edge Singapore (Issue 758 for the week of Dec 12) which is available at newsstands now.

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