There is a long laundry list of things that can impact a country’s job outlook, and the economy is certainly one of them. With that said, Singapore’s economy is hitting a rough patch lately. And if things persist, the trend could very well impact Singapore’s job outlook in the long run.

According to a recent report that appeared on The Straits Times, the city-state saw the sharpest slowdown in Southeast Asia this year with a 1.9% GDP growth — that’s compared to 2018’s 3.1%. According to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, which was quoted in the same report, part of this has to do with the renewed trade tensions between the US and China (more on that later), which comes at a time when export growth across the region is already facing some challenges. Adding oil to the fire is the fact that Singapore has deep ties to China and is highly dependent on exports. In short, whatever happens there happens here in some shape or form also.

Here’s the interesting part: while the economy and job market alike are performing less than stellar these days, Singaporeans are rolling with the punches and staying optimistic.

Singaporeans are certainly not taking things lying down. However, instead of charging headlong into the fray armed with nothing but optimism, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the trends that will impact your job prospects in 2019 and beyond. 

1. Geo-political trends and impacts

The US-China trade war might be waging across the Pacific, but its impact is already felt far and wide. Here’s why jobs in Singapore might be impacted: the tariffs imposed by both countries impact Singapore, since we trade extensively with them. The heftier the tariffs, the more it impacts the global supply chain, which will in turn slow down the trade flows, triggering a sharp and sustained fall in global business and consumer confidence. Ultimately, less consumption meals less business, which means less job appetite — everything is connected in this worst-case scenario, according to the Singapore Public Service.

In May, Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing even warned that “Singapore must be prepared to deal with the challenges and Singaporeans need to follow developments [of the trade war] closely and gird themselves ‘for the long haul’”. To that end, he highlighted the need to “[ensure] its business environment and workers' skills remain competitive, even amid ongoing disruptions”.

However, the situation hasn’t escalated to that level (yet). While we await with bated breath, what about hiring trends? Are things looking up?

According to the Michael Page Group’s Singapore Salary Benchmark 2019, the overall business sentiment in Singapore remains positive, and the economy looks set to continue being boosted in its priority sectors and segments. Trend-wise, technology specialists continue to be the most sought after amongst hiring managers and job applicants alike. The need for human resources professionals, too, has increased by 48%. In general, applicants can expect a 12–15% increase in salary, on average, when job switching within similar industries for the same function.

Despite the geo-political situation, the job market in Singapore continue to remain in the green.

2. Digital skills continue to be in high demand

One area that the Singaporean government is not skimming on is its heavy investment into digital technologies. ‘Smart Nation’ is more than just a clever political catchphrase. In fact, it is an actual initiative by the authorities to harness infocomm technologies, networks and big data to create tech-enabled solutions. In late June, the government even announced the opening of the Digital Industry Singapore office to help companies digitise and keep up with the rapid pace of technology. To that end, an estimated 10,000 new IT jobs are expected in the private sector over the next three years.

With the government’s backing in this highly specialised field, digital competence will continue to be one of the top pre-requisites for employers when hiring talent here in Singapore. Some of the most coveted positions include data scientists, product management, user experience designers, as well as other IT jobs. Cybersecurity, too, will be a main focus going forward, and this is especially true, considering several high profile cyber attacks that the city-state has experienced in early 2019.

Speaking of digital skills, the startup landscape in Singapore is one of the most active in the region. The city-state houses over 100 incubators, accelerators and venture builders, and venture funding activities and amounts increased to 353 deals and US$10.5 billion respectively in 2018 that’s compared to just US$0.8 million in 2012. As of 2017, the number of tech startups has grown to 4,000, employing about 22,000. Looking at the emphasis on startups and digital skills, startup jobs or IT jobs will likely heat up in demand as well.

3. Elevated demands in accounting, healthcare, engineering and service sectors

Talent shortage continues to be a pressing issue in Singapore. Among the roles that are most difficult to fill, sales representatives, engineers, drivers, professionals and other specialised professionals. This is due to limited talent pool that has the required background and experience to fill increasingly complex roles.

For the accounting sector, in particular, a goal of creating 2,000 new accountant jobs come 2020 under a new government roadmap was announced earlier this year. Despite traditional administrative and finance functions being increasingly automated, the report does also state that financial analyst and account assistant positions are among some of the more in-demand roles within that sector.

Healthcare-wise, while Singaporeans are living longer than ever — 84.8 years on average to be exact — they are also living longer in ill health. As such, long-term care workers will continue to be in high demand in Singapore. On the flipside, with the city-state’s effort to digitise healthcare and medical records, roles like patient service associates might be displaced as a result.

4. Social media as a means to get employed

If it is 2019 and you are still sending traditional CVs by email or even by post, then it is a good idea to get with the times. Across every industry and market, employers and candidates alike are using social media to enhance branding, according to the Singapore Business Review.

Candidate-wise, LinkedIn has always been about career branding. However, more often than before, other channels are being utilised to do the same thing also, with YouTube being an increasingly popular choice to showcase various skills and experiences. This should come as no surprise, since Singapore has one of the highest social media penetration rates in the world.

In terms of employers, internal human resource teams have been realising the benefits of social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook, to showcase their value propositions, which in turn helps to secure the best talent on the market. This trend is expected to continue through 2019 and beyond.

5. Contracting work on the up and up

Full-time work offers a lot of benefits, from fully paid vacation days and childcare leaves to medical and dental coverage — it’s all part of the standard package. What you give up, of course, is the flexibility to switch jobs from one to the other, and our parents’ days of sticking with the same company for decades on end is over.

Gig economy is already a big deal in the US, with about 34% of the workforce currently involved in contracting work one way or another. With more employers finding it a challenge to gain headcount approval, contracting work in Singapore, too, will continue to increase in popularity as a flexible solution.

From the candidate’s perspective, especially for millennials, they are more open than ever before to take on non-permanent roles, which allows them to remain fluid in the job market.

From the employer’s perspective, the numbers check out. Aside from reduced long-term labour costs, the hiring process for contract workers is also much shorter these days. Furthermore, this allows employers to select from a wider pool of potential candidates than would otherwise be available. And since hirers are not limited to just one location, there is a higher chance to find freelancers with highly specific skill sets. Suddenly, the talent pool is available not just in your country, but all over the world as well.

Besides, there are platforms these days that allow business owners to find and hire freelancers quickly and pain-free. Michael Page, too, can step in to help hire contractors. For one, we have access to an extensive network of professional contractors for both short- and long-term roles. Partnering companies like Michael Page will also gain hirers access to third-party payroll, which especially critical for small- and medium-sized enterprises that might not have the same resources as their larger multinational counterparts.

6. Greater emphasis on cultural fit

Unless you are a fresh graduate, it’s not impossible to meet the minimum requirements of a job posting. If you have been working in the same industry for several years, the likelihood is that you’d have gathered some if not all the skills required for you to advance to the next rung of the ladder. Human resource teams know this for a fact as well, which is why so many other factors come into play when they are hiring new talents.

Beyond technical skills, one of the biggest trends is for employers to look at the talent’s fit with an organisation’s culture and values. In fact, many organisations are implementing tests at the initial stages of the interview process to assess if a potential candidate aligns with their way of doing business or even the way they work with existing teammates. These ‘soft skills’ might not seem important at first, but employers are quickly recognising the fact that technical skills can be learned — social and cultural skills, those are much harder to teach.

7. Faster, smarter recruitment

Candidate screening takes time. Not only do you have to put out hiring advertisements, HR professionals also have to manually screen through these resumes to find the right man or woman for the job. However, it doesn’t help that 75–88% of resumes received oftentimes don’t meet the qualifications for the jobs applied — that’s a lot of wasted time going through piles of resumes indeed.

And that is why one of the biggest trends in Singapore is to allow artificial intelligence to do the work. AI-powered tools allow HR and recruitment teams to screen through massive amounts of job applications in order to get to the candidate that fits the bill. There are also tools that allow employers to suss out suitable candidates that might not be actively looking for jobs at the moment.

In conclusion, trends impacting the job outlook in Singapore come in two forms: the ones you can’t control and the ones you can. It is not within our ability to tip the scale when it comes to the US-China trade war, but it is possible to know the skills in high demand, as well as the industries that need them. After all, if it is cloudy with a chance of rain, it never hurts to have a wet-weather plan.