SINGAPORE (Mar 14): Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) accounted for a staggering 79.3% of retrenched residents in 4Q18, according to a labour market report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Thursday.

This brings the total figure for retrenched local PMETs -- comprising Singaporeans and permanent residents -- to 75.8% of all retrenchments for 2018, the highest level since such data was first published by MOM in 2006.

Some 58% of retrenched residents had degrees, while 19.9% held diplomas. The bulk of the individuals who were retrenched in 4Q18 were aged 40 to 49 (34%) and 50 and over (33.6%).

Further, only 62.6% of PMETs found a new job within six months after retrenchment — falling below the 71.5% for clerical, sales, and service workers, and the 68.2% for production, transport operators, cleaners and labours.

The latest figures are in line with trends highlighted in a report on PMET retrenchments published by The Edge Singapore this week.

See also: PMETs face higher risk of retrenchment, experts say

The article found that PMETs are increasingly forming the bulk of retrenchments — far beyond their 56% representation in the labour market. Compared to blue-collar workers, they also find it harder to find a job after retrenchment.

Experts say the statistics are worrying, and have pegged these trends to automation taking over the jobs of PMETs, as well as a mismatch between those looking for jobs and the jobs available in terms of skills and pay expectations.

In addition, they say it may be easier for blue-collar workers to find new jobs since their skills are less specialised and more transferrable.

Calling the trends a “worrisome phenomenon”, OCBC economist Selena Ling says the challenge is to stem this rising tide of PMETs being retrenched and helping them get back to work faster given the ageing population, digital disruption and skills obsolescence.

Ling says the authorities are already looking at skills upgrading and professional conversion programmes, but urges the problem to be addressed with increasing urgency.

DBS economist Irvin Seah says the current policies are skewed towards curing rather than preventing the problems. “Policies are currently tilted towards providing support to retrenched PMETs. Perhaps there is a need to re-orientate policy focus towards mitigating against such worsening trend,” he says.

But not all is gloom and doom. Overall retrenchment figures fell to 10,730 in 2018, compared to 14,720 in 2017 and 19,170 in 2016.

MOM says last year’s figures were the lowest since 2011.

Job vacancies are also on the rise since 2017, with 62,300 in December last year compared to 58,800 three months prior.

The number of job vacancies for PMETs has also spiked by more than 5,000, with the bulk of the jobs within the information and communications sector, followed by professional services and financial services.