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Press Release on Labour Market Report First Quarter 2021


1. Labour market indicators for 1Q 2021 point to the continued recovery of Singapore’s labour market from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.Total employment grew by more than the preliminary estimates released in April.This was due to a higher than anticipated increase in resident employment.Non-resident employment continued to decline, but at a slower pace.The number of retrenchments and re-entry rate among retrenched residents improved to pre-pandemic levels observed in 2018 and 2019.Hiring activity increased while unemployment rates continued to ease.Job vacancies rose for the third consecutive quarter.The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons rose significantly.

2. However, the labour market is still not fully back to pre-COVID-19 conditions.Unemployment rates, including resident long-term unemployment rate, remained elevated in March 2021.Uncertainties in the economy and the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) COVID-19 posture is expected to weigh on the pace of labour market recovery in 2Q 2021.

Main Findings

Sharper than expected increase in total employment

3. Total employment grew for the first time in 1Q 2021 (12,2001 excluding Migrant Domestic Workers) after four consecutive quarters of decline. Resident employment continued to increase, outpacing the decline in non-resident employment. The decline in non-resident employment partly reflects the restrictions on the inflow of foreign workers due to public health reasons.

4. Resident employment increases were broad-based across industries, led by Information & Communications, Food & Beverage Services, Health & Social Services, Administrative & Support Services, Public Administration & Education, and Professional Services. The Employment Diffusion index2 (EDI) for resident employment, which measures the breadth of employment change across industries, remained above the mid-point of 50 in 1Q 2021 (61.1).

5. The EDI for non-residents (27.0) remained markedly below the mid-point of 50.This means that non-resident employment continued to fall in most industries, though the pace of decline has slowed.

Unemployment rates eased, but remained elevated

6. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rates continued the steady improvement since the peak in September 2020.Unemployment rates declined further from February to March 2021 (Overall: from 3.0% to 2.9%; Resident: from 4.1% to 4.0%; Citizen: from 4.3% to 4.2%).However, these rates remained elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. The resident long-term unemployment rate remained unchanged at 1.1% (seasonally adjusted).

Retrenchments and rate of re-entry into employment returned to pre-pandemic levels

7. In 1Q 2021, the number of retrenchments (2,270)3 declined for the second consecutive quarter, and the six-month re-entry rate among retrenched residents rose for two consecutive quarters to 66% in 1Q 2021.

8. There were fewer retrenchments across sectors. More than half of retrenchments which occurred in 1Q 2021 were due to restructuring and re-organisation, while retrenchments due to recession or downturn in industry made up a smaller proportion compared to a quarter ago.

Number of employees placed on short work-week or temporary layoff halved

9. As business activities picked up, the number of employees who were placed on short work-week or temporary layoff continued to decline (4Q 2020: 8,710; 1Q 2021: 4,020).However, the level remains high compared to pre-pandemic quarters (averaging 740 in 2018-2019).

Ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons improved, as number of job vacancies trended up

10. The number of job vacancies (seasonally adjusted) increased further to 68,400 in March 2021, exceeding the last high of 65,500 in March 2015.The ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons improved to nearly 1 job vacancy for every unemployed person in March 2021 (0.96), an increase from a ratio of 0.75 in December 2020 (seasonally adjusted).The ratio in March 2021 was within the range observed in pre-COVID years of 2018 – 2019.4

11. Job vacancies were reported in all industries, in particular Manufacturing (mainly in Fabricated Metal Products, Machinery & Equipment and Electronics), Public Administration & Education, Construction, Information & Communications and Financial Services.


12.In this environment, we encourage jobseekers to stay resilient, keep an open mind to new opportunities and consider less familiar roles. To enable employers to access a wider pool of candidates to fill growing vacancies, the Government has put in place various schemes that support local hiring, reskilling and job redesign.

  1. Under the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI), eligible employers hiring locals between September 2020 and September 2021 can receive up to $15,000 per hire while those hiring mature workers, persons with disabilities, and ex-offenders can receive up to $54,000 per hire. In the first three months of implementation, there were about 130,000 JGI supported hires across many sectors, including in growth sectors such as Information & Communications and Professional Services.


  2. Employers who need to reskill mid-career jobseekers can tap on the career conversion programmes under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which provide up to 90% training and salary support.5 In 2021, we have catered capacity for 10,000 places in career conversion programmes.Employers who are still not able to offer permanent positions can consider participating in the SGUnited Traineeships and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways programmes.As of March 2021, the collective efforts of government agencies, unions and employers have helped nearly 103,000 locals to take up new jobs and skills opportunities since the SGUnited Jobs & Skills Package was launched in April 2020.


  3. Employers can transform operations and improve job quality to overcome their hiring challenges. The Government will support businesses through job redesign programmes such as the Industry 4.0 Human Capital Initiative (iHCI) and Support for Job Redesign under the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG-JR).Under the PSG-JR, there is a panel of pre-approved consultants to help bridge the knowledge gaps for enterprises to develop and implement job redesign solutions. Funding support for job redesign consultancy services has been raised to up to 80% (from up to 70%) since Feb 2021, capped at $30,000 per enterprise till end-Mar 2022.

13. Jobseekers who require assistance with their job search can approach Workforce Singapore (WSG) and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), including through the 24 SGUnited Jobs and Skills Centres across the country. The Ministry of Manpower and WSG have also appointed Adecco Personnel Pte Ltd, an employment agency with over 64 years of global experience in employment facilitation, as a SGUnited Jobs and Skills Placement Partner to offer another avenue for mature workers, long-term unemployed jobseekers, or persons with disabilities, to access professional career matching services.

14. Given ongoing border restrictions to reduce COVID-19 importation risks, we expect foreign employment growth to continue to face downward pressure. This may lead to manpower shortages in sectors like Construction. To help employers with the manpower shortage, the MOM and BCA introduced a time-limited flexibility to allow new Work Permit Holders to obtain their skills certification in Singapore.This will make it easier for employers to hire workers from PRC where the COVID-19 situation is more stable, and fewer restrictions are in force.

For More Information

15. The “Labour Market Report, First Quarter 2021” is released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department, Ministry of Manpower. The report and technical notes on the various indicators are available at


  1. This was revised upwards from the preliminary estimate of 4,800 reported in the Labour Market Advance Release (LMAR) 1Q 2021.
  2. The EDI provides an indication of the breadth of employment change across 203 component industries, and ranges from 0 to 100. The further away this index is from the mid-point of “50” (either above or below), the more widespread these employment expansions and contractions.
  3. This is slightly higher than the preliminary estimate of 2,100 reported in the LMAR 1Q 2021.
  4. In 2018 to 2019, the ratio of job vacancies to unemployed persons ranged from 0.82 to 1.09.
  5. For individuals newly hired on WSG’s Place-and-Train career conversion programmes for the period between 1 Sep 2020 and 30 Sep 2021, the salary support disbursements will be disbursed to participating employers over a longer period, comprising the career conversion programme training duration and an additional period of retention equivalent to the training duration.