By Gunther Wong
When I commented last month that Ministry of Manpower (MOM) set a good example by sending staff for communication training, I was convinced that it was the right thing for the government to do.
Some help that was. Their latest Manpower Research and Statistics Department report is confusing, and I needed a friend with a statistics minor to interpret it for me. Even then, these were specialised statistics, so we took a while to decipher it.
Channel News Asia (CNA) quoted MOM as saying that employment contracted by 6,100, reflecting seasonal declines and sharper moderation in employment growth in sectors with less favourable business conditions. Following that was a series of other statistics that the layperson probably wouldn’t understand.
What MOM probably meant to say was that employment growth, which refers to the number of people who took up jobs, fell by 6,100 last quarter, and this is likely because companies were in a season where not so much manpower was needed.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that there were less jobs available, or that the total number of jobs (both filled and vacant) actually shrunk. In all likelihood, the vacancies were there, but no one is applying for them. In one of my previous jobs, in one good economic year, we had two vacancies open and no one to take them. Well, to be fair, these were engineering consulting jobs, and there were few locals with the skill sets and experience for that. Crappy pay didn’t help either.
But I digress. As for the other statistics, unemployment dropped slightly and redundancies (think of it as retrenchments / disappearing jobs) fell compared to the last quarter of 2014. Vacancies exceeded jobseekers. All this means that you should still be able to get a job when you need it.
Of course, under-employment (when you take a job that you’re over-qualified for) and low salary are a separate bunch of issues.
All that I’ve said in this letter is probably not the most technically precise interpretation. But the point here is that the statistics have to be simplified so that people like me can understand it.