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Jobs in Singapore – low pay or unrealistic demands?

With job vacancies at a six-year high, we explore the reasons behind Singapore’s current employment dilemma.

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), live job vacancies in Singapore rose over the year to 67,400 (as of September 2014).

Two-thirds of these vacancies (67%) were deemed hard-to-fill with local people, with low pay and working conditions the main cause for Singaporeans disinterest.

Almost half of employers (46%) cited that the hard-to-fill vacancies were as a result of unattractive pay, compared with 17% who said there was a lack of necessary work experience and only 7.5% who said workers lacked essential qualifications.

Employers also listed the following barriers when hiring locals:

• Preference for a shorter workweek (39%)
• Physically strenuous job nature (37%)
• Shift work (31%)

Picture a sandwich. According to one of our Singaporean clients "High paid expats are the bread on top, low paid expats are the bread below, and we Singaporeans are the sandwich filling."

And that sandwich filling is being squeezed. Low pay and shift work may, in part, be attributed to the predominance of lower-end jobs among the hard-to-fill vacancies, with the retail and hospitality industry jobs among the top openings.

Certainly throughout 2014, Spinnaker’s recruitment division has experienced (and continues to experience) very high demand for shipping staff in Singapore, particularly operations roles in the dry bulk sector. Many employers have struggled to fill these roles due to a lack of local supply compared with demand levels. This may not be surprising, for a few reasons:

• Huge growth in the shipping sector in Singapore, particularly the increase in Singapore-based companies
• Preference for hiring local staff and permanent residents combined with the clamp-down on Employment Passes by the Singaporean Government
• The local talent pipeline is still too low in number and too new to meet immediate demand for experience

Moreover, Spinnaker’s recruiters report that the majority of jobseekers understandably prefer to stay where they are unless they can move for a promotion (or much more money!).

With increasing pressure from the Singaporean Government to employ locals, the growing concern is that employers will regard Singapore as saturated and unable to supply the talent they need and / or that a salary war will ensue. Either way, the result is not good for the erstwhile can-do-no-wrong shipping hub, which is already regarded as having become too expensive for many potential expats. At the moment, their resolve no doubt strengthened by the economic environment, employers are generally holding firm and not offering inflated salaries to attract. The result is many vacancies left unfilled and employers left scratching their heads.

This article was written by Emily Warren, Compensation and Benefits Consultant for our HR Consulting division. To find out more about Spinnaker Global's Singapore vacancies, visit, or for information on our salary benchmarking services visit

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