The Ministry of Manpower recently made an announcement that showed total employment grew by 24,900, down from the increase of 31,900 in the same period last year.
We hear of numbers like this so often that we are numb to it. There is a disregard of what these numbers actually mean. The arcane words used do not make it easier to understand. So is the Ministry saying there is still job growth, just less job growth? And if it doesn’t affect me or my job‚ why should I care?
The opposite of job growth is: job destruction. Technology and globalisation are contributors to the destruction of jobs. This is not a bad thing, better processes, better technology makes for a more innovative world and keeps the environment evergreen.
I read a worrying remark on Facebook that went something like, “Less jobs? Good what, jobs always go to foreign labour, less jobs no problem”. If you’ve been on the ground and listening, you would be forgiven if you felt that the above sentence represents the sentiments on the ground.
Creation of new jobs should not be underestimated. Part of its role is to replenish the ones that are destroyed. To realise the magnitude of job destruction, it would help to recall the jobs of yesteryear. Remember the letter writer, the trishaw man and the coolies? Start thinking about your own jobs today. Is it facing increasing challenges caused by technology and lowered barriers of entry? We’ll have a skim through a small sample of jobs today and decide if these jobs are enroute to extinction:
Development of new technologies that assist cleaners do their work in a more efficient manner, means that 1 person can now do the job of 2, 3 or more. Floor polishers, garbage removal, large scale dishwashers, robotic vacuum cleaners – increasingly our cleaners will become machine operators more than specialists of a skill.
Mass production see the reduction of costs in softwares (such as Adobe Photoshop) and hardwares. Pirated copies of these softwares, high speed internet and human resource sites such as www.elance.com or www.peopleperhour.com increase price pressure on the designer. They are now competing with highly skilled individuals from all over the world. People who do not even need to be in your country to compete with you.
Cloud technology allows individuals to store files, contacts and emails. Modern email programs are sensitive and smart enough to automatically co-ordinate meetings into a calendar. There is no lack of intelligence in our machines that can help us co-ordinate video conferencing, organising and even printing. What used to be the work of a team of administrators or even assistants is now reduced to just one or two operators.
Collaboration/CRM webware such as www.salesforce.com make once menial tasks such as prospecting, administration and follow-ups automated. The consequence is that sales people now become more task and goal oriented, removing the need for complex business development hierarchies.
Most of us who have done our fair share of National Service would know the job of a Prowler. Advancements in the field of security has given us more robust monitoring systems, weapons detection, intruder alert and fast response networks also mean less labour is required
Have you traded online before? Have you experienced how easy, simple and cheap it is to do so? Will it still be lucrative being a stock broker?
Now that we have an appreciation that job destruction exists, then so job creation must keep up with the pace of the former. Investments in education, importing of human expertise, fulfilment of markets (such as the very contentious Integrated Resorts), developments in science and technology, these all contribute to creation of new jobs.
But why are jobs going to foreigners?
Now, you might also argue that once vacancies are open, more foreigners snap it up rather than Singaporeans. Indeed this presents a paradox: For illustrative purpose, let’s say that in order to create jobs for 3 Singaporeans, 3 foreigners need to exist. How do you decide? From croupiers to nuclear energy, from drug development to robotics, markets thrive on an exchange of skills across the globe, creating new opportunities for one and all.
A one off phenomenon or a disturbing trend
The drop in new jobs is no accident. In response to Singaporeans call for less foreigners, the Manpower Ministry has tightened its quotas on work permits. Announced recently is the intent to have a stronger grip on the number of S-Passes. It is now more expensive for companies to hire overseas workers due to raising levies, increasing salary thresholds and requiring better educational qualifications for some categories of foreigners.
According to MAS, growth slowed discernibly in the past two quarters and external demand is expected to remain tepid and volatile next year. GDP may increase 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent, but market forecasts for 2013 remain bleak.
Voices on the ground say that “we can afford to slow down”. Yet slowing down and aiming low means the Singapore economy will slip into the red more often. When that happens, businesses will do less well and bonuses will be smaller.
The effect of foreign labour restriction has yet to unravel itself.