The size of employment losses in Singapore during the Covid-19 pandemic was truly unprecedented, compared to pass recessions. According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as the pandemic unfolded over 2020 and 2021, our employment numbers dropped. By the third quarter of 2021, total employment had declined by 196,400 cumulatively, with 113,500 (or 58% of the total numbers) happening during the circuit breaker period (the second quarter of 2020) alone!
These surpassed previous declines such as the dotcom bubble in 1998, which showed a drop of 79,500 in employment; the Asian financial crisis in 1998 (-42,100), and the global financial crisis in 2008 (-13,800).
Job losses in the Covid-19 crisis were also broader based than in previous recessions, with the greatest losses in jobs found in the service industry (-86,400), followed by construction (-62,600), and then manufacturing (-47,000).
Thankfully, both the Singapore government and our workforce stayed resilient and were quick to act. Programmes like the Jobs Support Scheme and Jobs Growth Incentive, which were targeted to support local workers, helped keep our overall unemployment rate relatively low.
According to MTI, this was “partly reflected by the availability of employment opportunities, as well as the loss of non-resident workers who exited Singapore’s labour force amidst the downturn.”
Our Singaporean workers didn’t give up!
But make no mistake, our workforce also rolled up our sleeves and stepped up. From stay-at-home mums who returned to the workforce, to retrenched fathers who knuckled down and sent out resume after resume, Singaporeans who were hit hard by these tough times didn’t give up.
In fact, more Singaporeans tapped on professional conversion programmes (PCPs) in 2021 to learn new skills and switch careers, going through structured training, and gaining on-the-job experience so they can change sectors, or be redeployed to other roles within their current companies.
Data from Workforce Singapore (WSG) showed 6,260 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) joined such programmes last year, taking part in WSGs 100 PCPs in more than 30 sectors!
Close to 20 were added, ranging from programmes for furniture and lifestyle designers, and advanced biopharmaceuticals manufacturing professionals.
Workers, employers and the government worked together to get us through tough times
Several Singapore-based companies also stepped up, hiring staff who went through PCPs, such as personal care products distributor Corlison, who took on six staff from the programme.
Speaking to the Straits Times, the company’s managing director Andy Ong said the programme had “shortened the time needed for a new team member to get on-the-job training and become familiar with the tasks in a new role”.
It’s this spirit of all-hands-on-deck tripartite cooperation that has helped Singapore recover from the Covid-19 crisis. Singapore Manpower Minister Tan See Leng alluded as much in his May Day 2022 message, concluding: “It behoves us as tripartite partners to sustain this spirit of collaboration and trust in the years and decades ahead.”
“The fact that employers and workers have come through the last two years of Covid-19 without the need for excessive regulation or litigation, but with a sense of unity and cohesion, should give us even greater confidence that our tripartite approach works well!”
Happy National Day!
To our dear Workipedia readers, and those amongst you who’ve recovered from retrenchments, upskilled despite it all, or climbed (or are still climbing) your way back into the workforce, kudos, and happiest of National Days to you.
Here’s a closer look at some inspiring Singaporeans who’ve taken career hits or challenges during the past few years, to both remember and celebrate their achievements of getting back on track in the true Singapore spirit!