The Big Read in short: Economic uncertainty hurts fresh grads’ job prospects
Each week, TODAY’s long-running Big Read series delves into the trends and issues that matter. This week, we take a look at the impact of the uncertain economic outlook — stemming from the United States-China trade war — on the job market for fresh graduates. This is a shortened version of the feature.
Each week, TODAY’s long-running Big Read series delves into the trends and issues that matter. This week, we take a look at the impact of the uncertain economic outlook — stemming from the United States-China trade war — on the job market for fresh graduates. This is a shortened version of the feature, which can be found here.
SINGAPORE — When Miss Halida Thanveer Asana Marican did not hear back from employers after starting her job hunt in December, the Life Sciences graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) panicked and ramped up her search. The 24-year-old sent out about 30 applications in all before securing a 21-month contract role as a research assistant in April.
Fellow Life Sciences graduate Sankar Ananthanarayanan had better luck with his job hunt. The 24-year-old landed a job as a university administrator on his first try in March, after hearing about the opening from a friend three months earlier. However, he too will be on a year-long contract rather than a permanent appointment.
Short-term contracts, along with multiple rejections or even non-replies to job applications, as well as having to lower their job and salary expectations — these are what some fresh graduates are experiencing, as their job hunt this year coincides with the US-China trade war, which has cast a pall on the global economy and threatens to dampen Singapore’s economic growth in the months ahead.
TAKING UP CONTRACT JOBS
The increased prevalence of contract jobs, due to a variety of factors including the rise of the gig economy, is well-documented.
Mr Alvin Ang, founder and director of talent acquisition at Quantum Leap Career Consultancy, said that contract roles allow employers to react quickly to changing business conditions by letting go of some staff during a sudden economic downturn.
Still, some fresh graduates told TODAY that they are open to taking up contract jobs as other factors such as job scope or work environment are more important.
Short-term contracts, along with multiple rejections or even non-replies to job applications, as well as having to lower their job and salary expectations — these are what some fresh graduates are experiencing, as their job hunt this year coincides with the US-China trade war Photo: TODAY
Miss Aisha, 21, who will be graduating in August from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said her priority was to secure a job related to her field of study in information systems. She added that she welcomed a contract position as it would add to her job experience.
For Miss Halida, the contract position which she snagged gives her the flexibility to decide on future options, such as pursuing further studies.
Likewise, NUS chemical engineering graduate Meera Sundar, 22, felt it was not “a big deal” for her whether an available position is permanent or on contract basis.
“The only major difference is that if my contract runs out, I will probably have to find another job in two years or so. But I know if I do well in the company, I can still get converted to a permanent position,” said Miss Meera. She sent out 40 job applications over six months and eventually landed a suitable full-time job.
Ms Linda Teo, the country manager of recruitment company ManpowerGroup Singapore, said there appears to be a shift in mindset towards contract work among job seekers, including fresh graduates.
“Fresh graduates like working in contract jobs as they can experience different job roles and environments while building up their skills. For existing workers, working in contract jobs enable them to better manage their time,” she said.
Mr Ken Ong, a manager at recruitment firm Michael Page, pointed out that there has also been a corresponding shift in how firms perceive contract positions: When these roles started emerging three years ago, those who held contract positions were mainly hired to clear the backlog of work or cover certain roles temporarily.
Those hired on contract did not have a sense of purpose in their work or belonging for the company. However, this has changed with companies extending equivalent benefits to both contract and permanent staff, said Mr Ong.
OVERALL JOB MARKET OUTLOOK
As fresh graduates continue to look for jobs, their hunt is unlikely to be aided by the trade tensions between US and China.
Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng said that apart from US-China trade tensions, the Brexit saga will also affect business, and consequently hiring sentiments.
“If trade tensions continue for a long time, it may affect global economic growth. Business sentiments will be more careful and hiring will slow,” he said.
Job prospects for fresh graduates, in particular, will be “tougher”. He added: “I think businesses will only hire if they need to replace (staff), but not for expansion. You can also expect to see more contract jobs being offered to new hires.”
Mr Kurt Wee, head of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME), said that there are signs of overall global trade shrinking, which do not bode well for Singapore’s economy.
However, the impact of the trade war on the job market will only be evident one or two quarters down the road, he said.
He added that while companies that are growing are still keen to hire and groom young talent, the increasingly cautious outlook could dampen the rise of starting salaries rather than the number of jobs available.
Mr Wee said that companies which are currently looking for regional opportunities— to hedge against any downsides in the trade war over the next two to three quarters — could also defer hiring until their operational structures are more defined for the longer term.
The manufacturing and logistics sectors are likely to be more cautious than others in hiring, given that these sectors are likely to be most affected by the trade war, he said.
ADVICE FOR FRESH GRADS
Given that the region might benefit to some extent from the US-China trade war, SBF’s Mr Teo urged fresh graduates to consider working overseas — not just in “nice countries” but also the “tough ones” among the members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).
“Asean is a bright spot in the world economy. It offers a lot of good prospects and I encourage young people to take it on, even if it is just an internship stint,” he said.
Michael Page’s Mr Ong called on fresh graduates to value exposure over stability, although their decision on whether to work out of Singapore should depend on the industry.
Those who wish to be in the manufacturing industry can remain in Singapore, which is the hub for high-end manufacturing, while those keen on banking and finance could also consider Hong Kong, he said.
Exploring different markets to gain experience and skills could be even more important these days, given the rising prevalence of contract jobs.
Ms Teo from ManpowerGroup noted that in such an environment, fresh graduates should aim to build up their repertoire of hard and soft skills which would allow them to adapt to shorter skill cycles and changing work demands.
For those who are concerned that they may be seen as “job-hoppers” by taking on contract roles, Ms Teo said that employers are aware of the growing trend and are open to candidates who have taken on multiple contract roles.
Whether a person is in a contract or permanent role, companies will strive to retain the individual so long as he or she performs well, said Mr Ong.
“If you are deemed valuable in the company, hiring managers from different departments will try to place you because no company will simply want to lose a good employee,” he added.