SINGAPORE - REFLECTING the state of the job market, there are now 125 openings for every 100 job-seekers.
Interestingly, employment growth remained practically flat in the first nine months of the year compared with a year ago. The number of jobs created moderated, and layoffs rose after declining in the preceding two quarters.
Yet the labour market remained tight with more job openings, thanks to still busy hirings in the domestic sector and a tighter control of the inflow of foreign workers.
"The tigher supply of foreign workers has likely reduced the labour force - apart from a slower inflow of new foreign workers, existing Work Permit holders would have to leave Singapore if they fail to renew their work passes," says economist Kit Wei Zheng from Citigroup.
Final figures released yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also confirmed the preliminary estimate of the 3Q unemployment rate at a seasonally adjusted 1.9 per cent in September, down from 2 per cent a quarter ago.
There was a slight upward revision in the job growth - from 24,900 to 26,200 - but that's still way down from a year ago when 31,900 jobs were created.
It's also down from 2Q this year when employment grew by 31,700.
Total jobs created in the first nine months of the year came to 85,100, similar to the increase of 85,000 in the same period last year.
Reversing the declines in the previous two quarters, job openings rose in 3Q. The seasonally adjusted vacancies jumped 13 per cent over the quarter to 51,500 in September. For every 100 job seekers, there were now 125 openings, up from 91 in June and 105 in March this year.
But layoffs picked up in 3Q, following two quarters of fall. Workers made redundant climbed from 2,210 in 2Q to 2,850.
MOM played down the increase. "This was one of the few higher quarterly redundancy figures reported in post-recessionary periods, but they remained substantially below recessionary highs."
Some 6,000 to 12,800 workers were made redundant per quarter in the last recession.
"The moderated employment growth and the increase in layoffs suggest that there is a weaker labour demand," says Tan Khay Boon, a senior lecturer at SIM Global Education.
"This is due to the slower economic growth triggered by a challenging external environment," he says.
The increase in redundancies in 3Q came from the manufacturing sector, where the number of layoffs more than doubled from 520 in 2Q to 1,200. Some 1,510 workers were axed in the services sector in 3Q, unchanged from the quarter before.
"While more cyclical sectors like manufacturing have seen some softening in demand, the data overall hints at pent-up demand especially in services," Mr Kit says.
Still, job growth in services slowed from 21,200 in the third quarter of 2011 to 12,700 in the third quarter of this year. It eased from 3,900 to 3,700 in the same period in manufacturing.
The construction sector, however, saw higher employment increase, up from 6,700 in 3Q/11 to 9,700 in 3Q/12.
The jobless rates for residents and Singaporeans remained the same as a quarter ago at 2.8 per cent and 3 per cent respectively in September.
Resident long-term unemployment rate dipped a bit over the year from 0.5 per cent in September 2011 to 0.4 per cent in September this year, returning to its pre-recession low in 2007.