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S’pore sees a serious talent crunch – jobs remain unfilled despite 120% increase in listings

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In the aftermath of the pandemic, we’re witnessing significant changes in Singapore’s job market. Among employees, the ‘Great Resignation’ seems to be live and active. Workers’ priorities have shifted, and there’s a greater demand for flexibility, advancement opportunities, and a healthy work-life balance.

As per a survey published by Human Resources Online, three in five local SMEs reported that more staff were resigning now as compared to a year ago. A similar percentage of companies also asserted that they were finding it difficult to hire replacements.

Along with employee sentiments, skill gaps are another important factor contributing to these difficulties. Job scopes have been changing across industries, and this has caught many off-guard.

“Digitalisation has accelerated at an exponential rate in the past few years, with technology integrating into different industries,” explains Shumin Lai, data scientist at Smartcademy.

“For example, in the financial sector, more than a third of job vacancies are dedicated to tech roles. The use of technology in HR, healthcare, and agriculture is also on the rise.”

Digital capabilities are in demand

Compared to pre-pandemic levels job postings for tech-, data-, and science-based roles in Singapore are up 120 per cent on websites such as Indeed. Only a fraction of these positions are being filled, owing to a talent shortage in the country.

Lai explains that many companies were forced to go digital during the pandemic. This move helped them discover new opportunities to collect data more efficiently and make use of it to enhance business processes.

shumin lai smartacademy
Shiumin Lai, data scientist at Smartcademy / Image Credit: Smartcademy

Without the right talents, these companies may not be able to harness the power of data to its fullest potential. Thus, this drives the demand for data-heavy job talents.

– Shumin Lai, data scientist at Smartcademy

To illustrate, consider brick-and-mortar stores which were forced to move their operations online. Instead of salespeople, they’re now looking to hire employees who understand social media and search engine marketing.

Lai believes that such data-related skills will become increasingly valuable with time.

“As companies expand their digital presence, they may choose to delve deeper in their data capabilities. This is where data science, data engineering and maybe even big data skills will be required,” she adds.

Restrictions on foreign talent

In the past, Singapore-based companies would often turn to foreign talent to make up for skill gaps. However, with the tightening of eligibility criteria for foreign employees, this has become more challenging.

“The minimum qualifying salaries of EP holders have been raised by S$500, and a minimum of 40 points is required under the COMPASS scoring system for employment of foreign employees,” shares Lai. “This could deter some firms from hiring foreign talent, and they will choose to hire more locals.”

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As of September 2022, employment pass applicants will need a minimum salary of S$5,000 to be eligible / Image Credit: TADM

“Given the high demand for talents and a shrinking talent pool, it might prevent [tech] roles from being filled quickly,” Lai adds.

Although this is inconvenient for companies at present, it might benefit Singapore in the long run. “It motivates and encourages companies to redirect their resources and time to train existing local employees to attain the relevant skills for these tech roles.”

Barriers to upskilling

Despite being aware of the digitalisation trend, pivoting towards it isn’t an easy task. “There is time and effort involved from both employees and employers,” says Lai.

Employees, especially mature learners, are fearful of learning something new that they may not immediately excel in. Many are comfortable staying in their jobs for years and are afraid of starting over from scratch. They are also afraid of competing with younger, more tech-savvy millennials and Gen Zs.

On the other hand, employers do not see the need to relook and map their employees’ skills from a macro perspective. They only concentrate their resources at the top.

– Shumin Lai, data scientist at Smartcademy

Addressing this problem requires input from both parties. Businesses can look into creating competency frameworks to evaluate employees and identify their gaps in skill. They must also allocate time during working hours for employees to go for training sessions.

Shopee's-Company-Led-Training-(CLT)-Programme | Shopee Careers
Companies such as Shopee have introduced training programs for new employees / Image Credits: Shopee

“Employers can tap on the various government schemes available, such as the Career Conversion Programme (CCP), and Company-Led Training (CLT), which provide funding support for skills retraining and upskilling,” says Lai.

However, for such programs to be effective, employees must take charge of their own personal growth and development. “They need to adopt a long-term approach of how learning these skills can benefit them, and be self-motivated and willing to set aside time to attend these training sessions.”

Avoiding obsolescence

The urgency to upskill hinges largely on one’s present role. Certain job scopes are evolving in light of digitalisation while others are becoming obsolete.

Manual and repetitive jobs are most at risk of being on their way out and print media is also on the decline.

“Roles such as pre-press technicians are in danger of becoming obsolete. Many newspaper publications have stopped their print editions and focused their efforts on their online presence instead,” notes Lai.

Packing industry automation
The packing industry is one of many which is moving towards automation / Image Credits: Amazon Singapore

Lai cites cashiers as another example. The pandemic has spurred the development of self-service kiosks to comply with physical distancing measures. Now that such capabilities have been developed — and have proven to be cost-effective — it’s unlikely that businesses would move back to their old ways.

For workers looking to safeguard their future, it’s proving necessary to develop skills which can’t be automated.

Featured Image Credit: ILO/Giorgio Taraschi

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