Firms on hiring spree as economy improves

PHOTO: Firms on hiring spree as economy improves

SINGAPORE - Bosses are shrugging off higher business costs and continuing to hire more staff in expectation of better times ahead.

A stronger-than-expected second quarter has raised optimism among firms, especially those in the financial services sector, so more "help wanted" signs are going out.

New hiring will come on the back of an already bullish second quarter when employment grew by 32,500.

The new jobs added in the three months to June 30 exceed the 28,900 created in the first quarter and the 31,700 in the second quarter last year.

Services drove the rise in employment growth with 21,700 new jobs created.

The hiring surge reflects the unexpected 3.8 per cent increase in gross domestic product growth in the second quarter.

The finance and insurance sector led the pickup in second-quarter economic growth, expanding 13.1 per cent over the same period last year.

Banks told The Straits Times that they expect to continue hiring through all economic cycles.

A DBS spokesman said it is hiring locally for its consumer banking division as well as for support functions such as technology and operations, finance, compliance and risk.

Tighter foreign worker quotas and higher levies mean that employers in search of staff are turning to Singaporeans, said Mr David Leong, managing director of PeopleWorldwide Consulting, a human resource firm.

But wanting to hire is not the same as being able to find the right person, given the manpower crunch in the labour-intensive service sector, noted Mr Leong, who added that "it should not be difficult to get a job over the next three to six months".

"Employers are trying to attract older workers and women returning to the workforce in order to deal with the manpower shortage." Dairy Farm Singapore's director of retail development, Mr Lester Quah, said the company's outlook for the rest of the year remains "cautiously optimistic" and consumer confidence is expected to remain stable.

"Despite rising costs and challenging labour resources, we will continue to step up our hiring efforts and productivity initiatives," he said.

Property group CapitaLand's president and group chief executive, Mr Lim Ming Yan, said there is "a global war for talent".

The group's staff costs rose about 15 per cent in 2012 over the previous year to about $343.5 million, according to its latest annual report.

"The company is always on the lookout for talent, in both the up and down cycles," added Mr Lim, noting that CapitaLand is optimistic about the urbanisation, rising middle class and burgeoning consumer demand in Asia.

The Singapore Business Federation's (SBF) chief operating officer, Mr Victor Tay, said sales and profits of small and medium-sized enterprises are poised for a cautious pickup over the rest of the year.

But growth is likely to be more subdued compared with last year as there are still concerns over rising business and rental costs and the tight labour market.

Findings from the latest SBF-DP SME Index - a quarterly survey that measures the sentiments of 3,000 SME bosses - reported stronger optimism over expansion for the rest of the year.

"(The index) signalled SMEs are more confident of their growth strategies, which include targeting new markets or introducing new goods and services," said Mr Tay.

"(It) also showed that businesses are increasingly tapping better processes and equipment to drive productivity rather than relying exclusively on hiring."

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