THE first quarter of each year traditionally sees a flurry of movement in the job market, as people tend to seek new opportunities after the New Year period when they receive their bonuses.

The start of the year is also when companies allocate their budgets, establish their hiring plans for the year and begin their recruitment drives — factors that also contribute to the spike in hiring activity.

However, given the forecast for moderate economic growth in 2013, some companies are tightening their recruitment budgets. So most of the hiring is likely to be for replacement roles instead of new jobs created.

Due to the prolonged economic challenges in the euro zone and sluggish growth in the United States of America, many multinational corporations (MNCs) located in Singapore have already implemented a hiring freeze on new and replacement roles.

In view of the above, Singapore’s unemployment rate is expected to remain at status quo. There is, however, the possibility of a very slight increase in unemployment during this period.

Industry outlook

According to human resource consultancy PrimeStaff’s Employment Outlook Q1 2013 Report, the sectors that will be hiring aggressively in the first quarter of 2013 (Q1 2013) will be hospitality, food & beverage (F&B), retail, construction and health care. This is mainly due to the manpower crunch in these sectors resulting from the tightening of foreign worker employment policies.

Another contributing factor to this phenomenon is Singapore’s perennial emphasis on tourism as a key pillar of the economy. Naturally, a boost in tourism translates to a spike in manpower demand for the hospitality, F&B, and retail sectors in particular. 

There is also a greater demand for workers in certain niche areas such as education research, IT engineering and customer service roles in the insurance industry.

At the other end of the spectrum, the sectors that may lay off workers include manufacturing and banking. The former will be affected by sluggish global economic conditions while the banking industry faces stiff competition and may have to restructure its workforce in response to changing market needs.

Recruitment & human resource trends

Increased movement in the job market: Traditionally, the first quarter of the year sees an increase in movement in the job market, as people tend to seek new opportunities after receiving their bonuses during the New Year period.

* Rise in contract hiring: More companies are streamlining their headcounts due to tighter recruitment budgets and may hire more employees on contracts.

* More flexible work programmes: More flexi-work programmes will be offered to full-time staff as a result of smaller recruitment budgets, and in response to calls for better work-life balance.

* Greater focus on retention: Companies will turn their attention towards employee retention as a way to cope with the labour shortage because of the low unemployment rate. One talent retention strategy that organisations will be looking into is improving their compensation and benefits schemes.

* More business process outsourcing (BPO): In streamlining their workforce, more companies will opt for a leaner headcount and outsource certain business processes, including human resource functions.

* Re-emphasis on work improvement programmes: Such initiatives that lead to increased productivity will also be key on the agendas of many organisations.

Recruiters and job seekers

Although it appears to be an employees’ market due to the low unemployment rate and many job positions on offer, it is actually neither an employers’ nor employees’ market as business confidence appears to differ from sector to sector.

In view of this, here are some recommendations for Q1 2013, for both recruiters and job seekers:

* Be realistic: Many companies are constrained by tighter budgets so job seekers should be realistic about their salary expectations and not demand huge pay increases with each job transition.

* Keep an open mind: Job seekers should not make decisions purely based on salary considerations. They ought to take into account the overall stability of the company, as many organisations are currently observing global conditions before determining their next move.

* Focus on candidates’ career plans: Recruiters should work with job seekers on their long-term career plans and not focus solely on salary packages. Taking a more holistic approach to the hiring process will help improve the retention rates of new hires. 

* Keep upgrading: Job seekers should continuously upgrade their skills and capabilities to enhance their employability. This will help them to land the job they covet as well as negotiate the salary they want.