The sharp drop in employment growth in the first three months of the year needs to be watched closely, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.
Earlier this month, a Manpower Ministry report showed that just 300 jobs were added in the first quarter, a 99 per cent drop from the 28,300 jobs added in the same period last year.
"I think we should watch it. Basically, it is a full-employment economy," Mr Tharman said.
"And because we had very significant job creation in the last few years, including large increases in labour force participation, we should expect that fresh job creation going forward will involve smaller numbers than before but we should watch these trends carefully."
He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to Ling Kwang Home, a nursing home which teamed up with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) to develop a range of manpower-saving technologies.
The home is trying out new technologies that could help its staff care for patients more efficiently. For instance, the collaboration resulted in a fibre-optic mat which is placed under mattresses.
It detects the residents' heart rate and blood pressure and sends the information to mobile devices of the home's staff. Previously, nurses would have to monitor the heart rate of terminally-ill residents once every two hours.
Ling Kwang Home also uses a radio-frequency tagging system to track laundry, allowing for more efficient sorting as well.
Such forms of technology will be essential in helping nursing homes cope with fewer workers, said Mr Tharman.
However, the homes must also learn to integrate the use of technology without losing the human touch, he added.
He also said the "challenge is to deliver a higher quality of care without expanding" the number of people needed, and "making sure that the patients and residents feel good about it".
A*Star chairman Lim Chuan Poh said his agency is keen to work with other homes for the elderly to develop technology that will help staff do their jobs better.
Ling Kwang Home chief executive Dennis Tan said: "The nurses can cut down their rounds but have the peace of mind that they will know if there is an emergency."
This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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