Recently, Bloomberg published this report with a very utopian-sounding headline: “It takes just 8 weeks to find a job in Singapore”. It went on to compare Singapore with countries like Australia, where it takes considerably longer to replace a lost job.
The employment market here is still a lot more favourable to employees than it is in many other countries. But it’s a mistake to believe that you can give your boss the finger today and then sail on to another job tomorrow.
Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t assume it’s easy to find a decent job despite the statistics.
1. Low unemployment doesn’t mean low underemployment
Singapore’s unemployment rate remains low despite the fact that layoffs are at a 7-year high. Even at its highest point in the fourth quarter of 2016, the overall unemployment rate was just 2.1 per cent.
But there are many factors that lower the unemployment rate other than the availability of jobs.
One is the lack of unemployment benefits in Singapore. While not having unemployment benefits reduces the number of people who sit around on their arse enjoying handouts paid for by taxpayers, it also raises the number of people who are willing to work in jobs they are overqualified for in order to survive.
A prime example is the retrenched PMET who becomes a taxi driver, a narrative that isn’t at all uncommon here. According to the statistics, this engineer-turned-taxi-driver is employed on a full-time basis. However, he is also underemployed as he is doing a job he is overqualified for, which depending on how you look at it may not be so great.
2. Foreign employees lower the unemployment rate
Certain sectors, most notably finance, shipping and oil and gas, aren’t doing so well this year, and employees in these areas can find themselves praying each morning they won’t show up to work only to discover their email accounts have been suspended.
Tell these people there are abundant jobs in the F&B industry and they’ll give you a blank look.
There are certain industries facing a shortage of local workers, such as the nursing profession and in the service sector. These are also sectors where foreign-born employees tend to outnumber locals. This tends to happen in situations where wages have been depressed and are thus avoided by locals, as well as with roles where there is a shortage of qualified Singaporeans, such as software engineering.
When foreign employees are brought in to fill these roles, the unemployment rate falls. In the absence of PR status, these employees are obliged to leave the country if they become unemployed and thus do not contribute to unemployment statistics.
That is why although the overall unemployment rate for 2016 was 2.1 per cent, the resident (i.e. citizens and PRs) unemployment rate was actually 3 per cent.
3. Having a full-time job doesn’t necessarily mean being financially comfortable
Despite the low unemployment figures, Singaporeans still freak out about money on a daily basis.
Clearly, the availability of jobs doesn’t necessarily translate to a greater sense of financial security.
Due to the high cost of living and the lack of a minimum wage, there are full-time jobs out there that do not permit employees to earn a living wage.
They may not literally be starving on the streets, but many are obliged to live with their parents or children, and must turn to assistance from the government or charity organisations to help. Many are also ill-prepared for retirement, and given the falling birth rate, this could be a major problem in future when there are fewer young people around to support seniors.
It’s therefore a very bad idea to think you’ve got financial security just based on the unemployment figures alone. Not all full-time jobs here can give you the financial support you need even if you live a modest lifestyle, and it’s up to you to upgrade yourself to the point where you can qualify for those which can.