Singapore is at full employment, but are we taking it for granted?

The following article is submitted by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.


According to a recently released report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Singapore is facing a tight labour market. Unemployment for the third quarter of 2014 remains low at 2.0%. This compares favourably with other economies. For instance, the unemployment rate in the US is currently 5.8%, even though it is facing robust job growth. Unemployment in Hong Kong is currently at 3.3%. Even Switzerland, often ranked ahead of Singapore as the most competitive economy in the world, is facing an unemployment rate of 3.2%.

This is a consequence of strong growth in Singapore’s economy coupled with government efforts at reducing foreign worker inflows on the back of popular discontent over its immigration policies. Furthermore, jobs continue to outnumber job-seekers. The seasonally adjusted ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons rose from 136 in June 2014 to 142 in September 2014. Overall, the number of vacancies in September 2014 rose 9% from a year ago.

Indeed, Singaporeans are in a sweet spot. The economy is going strong, and there is an oversupply in the jobs market. Furthermore, the MOM had also reported a 2.9% growth in real wages last year. However, this has not translated into sentiments on the ground. According to a survey jointly conducted by the Singapore Human Resources Institute and Align Group, Singapore’s overall workplace happiness index is 59, which falls under the band “Under Happy”, between “Unhappy” and “Happy”.

Putting aside the questionable naming of index bands, Singaporean workers are (paradoxically) unhappy despite rising wages and the availability of job options. In particular, younger workers from the Gen X and Gen Y age groups are particularly unhappy, with Gen Y workers widely perceived as ‘job-hoppers’. These are the very same young people who lament the lack of job opportunities and the government’s favouring of foreign talent on various political blogs and social media websites.


Despite the higher level of education among the young, it is disturbing that the views which they espouse online do not seem to take into account Singapore’s economic realities, as reported by the MOM data. Nor do their actions connote any innate desire to build up job proficiency. After all, career advancement and promotions are often based on an individual’s proficiency in his or her job, and this is typically established over time. Switching between jobs disrupts the job learning process and hence prevents individuals from building up expertise or proficiency.

More importantly, it is simply not true that there are not enough opportunities for young Singaporeans. According to the MOM, professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (PMETs) constituted 43% of all job vacancies, followed by clerical service and sales workers (31%) and production, transport operators, cleaners and labourers (26%). For the increasingly tertiary educated Gen Y workers, there is a wealth of PMET opportunities for them.

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Yet, why are workers unhappy and why are Gen Y workers constantly on the move?

The simply answer is: we have become complacent and taken our jobs for granted. Given Singapore’s low unemployment and plentiful job vacancies, workers are putting much less effort into developing themselves within their current positions and learning to co-exist with any inconveniences that may arise within their daily work. Instead, they assume that there will always be another job waiting for them, should they choose to leave their current jobs.

This is a dangerous assumption.

It engenders a generation of workers who will never learn to be satisfied with what they have. Instead, they will constantly be on the look-out for ‘quick fix’ solutions. More worryingly, workers will begin to have a ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ mentality. This will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of (unwarranted) workplace unhappiness; a vicious cycle of constant disappointment amidst a phantasmagoria of there being a ‘better’ job somewhere else.

While such sentiments stem from the wealth of job opportunities in Singapore, job vacancies and low unemployment should not be seen as problems. Rather, they should be celebrated as national achievements. Rather, workers need to be more appreciative of the abundant opportunities available to them. More importantly, they need to focus on the job at hand and build up expertise and proficiency in their current jobs, rather than taking the ready availability of jobs for granted and using these as an ‘exit strategy’. This will need a change in mind-set among both workers and employers.







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