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How many of the 4 in 10 job vacancies went to foreign PMETs?

By Richard Wan

In a press release yesterday (3 Feb) [Link], MOM assured the public that despite job vacancies declined over the year, 4 in 10 job vacancies were found to be for PMETs.

"Openings remained available for all occupations, with service & sales workers, professionals and associate professionals & technicians most sought after," it said.

The number of job vacancies has declined over the year to 60,000 in September 2015.

"However, vacancies remained available for all occupations. Four in ten of job vacancies were for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (23,220 or 43% of total vacancies) such as teaching & training professionals, management executives, commercial & marketing sales executives and software, web & multimedia developers. This was followed by service and sales workers (12,270 or 23%), such as waiters, security guards and shop sales assistants," it added.

MOM also said that employers indicated that unattractive pay and the lack of necessary work experience were common reasons for hard-to-fill openings in PMET jobs.

It tells jobseekers to "make themselves more employable and adaptable to land a job faster".

Concluding its message, MOM said it will "continue to work with tripartite partners to strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce by creating more quality jobs to meet the rising career aspirations of Singaporeans; equipping Singaporeans with the right skills and competencies through SkillsFuture; and better matching them with higher-skilled jobs in the economy."

Competitions from Foreign PMETs

Despite the assurance of MOM to "strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce", it however did not reveal the number of PMET jobs that went to foreigners eventually. Hence, it is hard to ascertain Minister Lim Swee Say's seriousness in strengthening the "Singaporean core in the workforce".

What MOM said previously was that Singaporeans have all been employed, given the low unemployment rate for Singaporeans at 2.9% [Link]. But it failed to realise that for Singaporeans to improve their salaries, they need to have the opportunity to move up to the next higher job level. With increased competitions from foreign PMETs, Singaporeans will have a harder time to move up, resulting in stagnation at current levels with current salaries, even though he or she may be considered fully employed.

In fact, statistics from MOM last year showed that the number of foreign PMETs continues to increase unabatedly every year ('Foreign PMET number up 77% over last 5 years'). In the 5 years since 2009, the number of foreign PMETs has risen 77% from 197,000 to 349,000 (as at end 2014).

To make things worse, MOM does not impose any quotas for foreign PMETs on Employment Pass, whereas in a large country like the US with a population of 320 million, the US Congress has mandated a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas (equivalent to our EP) per year [Link].

An ST reader made the following observations in his letter to ST Forum last year [Link]:

"PMETs accounted for 51 per cent of the layoffs last year. Even among those made redundant, the rate of re-entry into employment is far slower for white-collar workers. Among those who found new jobs, a large proportion resumed work in a different industry, suggesting that their previous employment was in a sunset industry, or that a huge number of these PMETs end up underemployed as insurance or property agents, private tutors, security guards or taxi drivers, thereby competing with a huge pool of non-graduates for employment.

The group of mostly university-educated Singaporeans continue to lose their livelihood at an alarming rate. In spite of tighter restrictions introduced last year to control the influx of foreign PMETs, the retrenchment rate of white-collar citizens remains high, as many companies still prefer hiring foreigners, owing to savings in cost.

The long-term consequence of structural unemployment, especially with tens of thousands of older local PMETs losing their skills and employability, is the eventual weakening of our economy. Older Singaporean employees have discovered that existing guidelines and incentives to companies are far too inadequate and ineffective. Retrenched workers with the required experience, impressive track record and credentials can send out hundreds of job applications, attend numerous interviews, and still draw a blank, owing to nothing except their age.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices may have set out principles of fair employment practices for adoption by employers. However, in the absence of legislation, such an approach falls short of getting firms to keep or re-employ their older workers."

TAFEP and Job Bank are supposed to be MOM's solution to stop discrimination against hiring Singaporeans and to help build a "Singaporean core in the workforce". But is it working?

What do you think?