Singapore Job Seekers Have Upper Hand Over Employers
Aaron Low, Mark Tay & Ian Poh — Straits Times Indonesia
Just a few years ago, the financial crisis gave bosses in Singapore the upper hand in hiring staff. But in today’s increasingly tight labor market, the tables have been turned.
Job-seekers are the ones calling the shots now, especially for positions in the service industry, say firms.
The experience of PestBusters founder Thomas Fernandez illustrates this change in dramatic fashion. After placing 15 newspaper advertisements to fill an executive position, the chief executive thought he had finally hit pay dirt when a well-qualified 23-year-old woman walked in.
But he soon found himself over a barrel as the diploma holder made demand after demand during the interview. She asked for $1,800 a month instead of the $1,500 on offer, and wanted to work alternate Saturdays rather than every Saturday.
Fernandez bit his tongue and signed her up.
“Then, two to three weeks ago, she threatened to resign and told human resources that she wanted a four-day work week if we wanted to keep her,” he said, adding that she accepted a salary of $1,600 for the shorter week.
“I kept her because I need her to do the work.”
Such scenarios are becoming increasingly common for bosses, who say they have little choice but to offer more pay to attract workers. Some are also alleviating the labor shortage by using part-timers, older workers and more technology.
Unemployment hit a three-year low of 1.9 per cent in the first quarter of the year, official figures show. In addition, jobs now outnumber workers, with 139 vacancies for every 100 workers.
It is “definitely an employees’ market right now,” said Lynne Ng, the regional director of human resources firm Adecco South East Asia.
“There is currently very strong demand for well-educated and qualified job-seekers from all backgrounds — whether they hail from a college, polytechnic or university — as well as those with work experience.”
The labor crunch is most acute in the booming service sector, which accounted for 36,100 — or 73 per cent — of total vacancies as at the end of March.
Industries such as retail as well as food and beverage — and to a lesser extent financial services — are all experiencing a labour squeeze, said bosses.
KH Security said the situation is so bad that even after an interviewee accepts the job, there is no guarantee he will turn up for work.
“When we call them, they say they’ve found another job,” said the security agency’s senior business development manager, Gary Haris.
The impact is less keenly felt in the construction and manufacturing sectors, but they too have seen the labour pool shrink. Here, skilled workers such as technicians, managers and engineers are most in demand, say bosses.
Alvin Lim, executive chairman of marine firm BH Global Marine, said some of its subsidiaries were having a tough time hiring engineers.
Some wanted a starting pay of $2,500, rather than the $2,000 offered by the firm, even when they did not have the relevant skills, he said.
Foreign workers were one solution, but the firm had reached its quota and could not hire any more, especially since foreign engineers must have an S-Pass permit, Lim said. This means that the firm cannot hire another foreign engineer unless it adds three more local workers.
“We can’t find replacements for locals, so a lot of foreigners on our staff had to go back home,” Lim said.
Jian Huang Construction managing director Annie Gan said local workers want between $6,000 and $7,000 for a project manager’s post — far more than the $5,000 foreigners ask for.
“Sometimes we have no choice,” she said. “We end up offering the terms they want so we can fill the quota to get foreigners.”
At United Overseas Bank, finding replacements is taking longer than it did two years ago. The bank is coping by hiring temporary and contract staff, said human resources chief Jenny Wong.
“We are also more aggressive in rewarding staff, to improve retention as well as motivate them to increase productivity,” she said.
Economists have warned that rising wages stemming from the tight labour market could translate into higher prices for consumers if staff costs remain high.
As a result, inflation could stay high while growth slows – a painful combination – until productivity catches up to offset the higher wages, said Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng.
Productivity is a top priority for fishery Qian Hu, which has invested in measures to boost it. Last year, the firm installed automated water pumps that allow one man to change the water in up to 200 tanks at a time, up from 50 tanks previously, said its research head, Alex Chang.
As executive chairman and managing director Kenny Yap noted, the move will allow him “to grow the company with the resources I have now.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To
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