The job market last year was the bleakest in years, especially for degree holders, according to employment statistics released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.
The ministry's Labour Market Report 2016 was consistent with its preliminary data released in January.
There were more layoffs, which have been rising since 2010, with 19,170 last year compared to the 15,580 in 2015.
Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) formed three-quarters of all residents made redundant in the fourth quarter of last year, said MOM.
Unemployment also rose, with the annual average unemployment rate last year rising to 2.1 per cent overall, up from 1.9 per cent the year before, making it the highest since 2010.
MOM said the number of degree holders who were long-term unemployed last year - meaning they could not find work for at least 25 weeks - was highest since 2004 at 1 per cent, up from 0.8 per cent in 2015.
Experts said this trend was not surprising, given Singapore's weak economic situation.
Human resources expert Paul Heng told The New Paper that the high number of unemployed degree holders stemmed from the high number of layoffs.
The founder of NeXT Career Consulting Group added: "With our economy not doing so well and a lot of retrenchments ongoing, it means more people, including degree holders, lost their jobs on a whole.
"This doesn't mean that degree holders are being targeted. It just means more jobs are being dispensed with."
Overall, more residents - 17,000 - were long-term unemployed last year. This represents 0.8 per cent of the resident labour force, up from the 0.6 per cent that had remained constant for the past five years.
National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay noted in a Facebook post that the labour market had softened last year, reflecting economic uncertainty.
"As anticipated, we see more mature PMEs... being affected by this," he said.
"This is consistent with the report stating that workers aged 50 and above and those with degree qualifications were more affected. Those in their 30s were not spared."
But he said he was heartened by MOM's announcement last week that the Adapt and Grow programme will be enhanced, and NTUC's latest Pivot initiative to help jobseekers return to the workforce.
Mr Heng said it was vital for workers to continually upscale.
"Employment can be an illusion. You may have a job today but not one tomorrow," he said.
"What's more important is your employability and having the relevant skills, so that in the event something happens, you are still able to find a job."
The ratio of job vacancies to jobseekers fell to 0.77 in December last year.
It was the third quarter of decline, with the number of vacancies falling to a four-year low of 47,600.
But there was a silver lining from MOM's latest report - there was stronger employment growth for locals, with 11,200 more having jobs by the end of 2016, compared to a growth of just 700 in 2015.
This article by The Straits Times was published in The New Paper, a free newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.