It’s heartening to see that the manufacturing sector has once again emerged as a key economic driver for Singapore in the second quarter this year. Based on the latest MTI report (1), the segment expanded by 10.2 per cent year-on-year in Q2 2018. This is pretty remarkable considering the political uncertainties in both regional and global economies.
Within the electronics, hard-disk and semiconductor clusters, we’ve observed a decreasing number of job opportunities over the years, as more companies relocated their manufacturing plants overseas (such as Malaysia, Thailand and China) to reduce costs. However, due to its stable political market and geographical location, many companies have opted to keep their Asia Pacific offices and/or headquarters in Singapore. As a result, we are seeing a healthy demand for professionals who have the skills and regional experience in management roles, sales and marketing, legal services, human resources among other administrative roles.
The pharmaceutical and medical technology manufacturing operations in Singapore have also been expanding - due to the global growing demand for high-quality and innovative healthcare products. We expect this growth to continue, especially with the government’s push to position Singapore as Asia Pacific’s leading healthcare hub.
demand for manufacturing jobs
The demand and supply for manufacturing jobs has been relatively dependent on seasonal needs. We consistently see an increasing demand for talent between May and September every year as companies boost their operations to meet growing market demands. This is a result of increased consumer spend after Chinese New Year and before the bonus period that typically takes place around year-end.
There has also been an increased focus on managing non-communicable healthcare challenges (such as heart diseases and diabetes), as a result of an ageing population in Singapore and our neighbouring markets. Many companies we’ve been working with are increasingly looking for talent who have the experience and skills sets that are sought-after in the fast-growing medical technology and biomanufacturing industries.
from traditional to smart manufacturing
We have seen more companies in the manufacturing sector jump on the digital bandwagon. Companies are exploring how manufacturing intelligence and automation can help meet business objectives, reduce cost and improve efficiencies. Many people are interested to know how automation will impact the job security of workers in factory lines or other forms of traditional manufacturing and if they risk redundancy.
With emerging technologies, employees need to acknowledge that they have to be flexible and adaptable to inevitable changes in their job scopes. Companies that have chosen to introduce new technology to their manufacturing process will often provide support and training for employees. This helps employees to transit smoothly into their new roles. It is also more likely that these employees will be required to learn how to work with new and advanced technology through robust learning and development programmes provided by the company.
Take this industry veteran for example, who has seen his job evolved over two decades - transiting from a technical assistant into an assistant robotics engineer. In order to stay relevant, he has remained open to learning new skills and upgrading himself, picking up specialist knowledge in computer programming even when he had no prior exposure to it.
However, the manufacturing industry is still predominantly traditional. Most companies still seek talent with specific skills and experience to match stringent job requirements. For example, it would be difficult for a job seeker who has experience working in semiconductor manufacturing to switch over to the up-and-coming biomanufacturing space as the knowledge and skills needed for the job are significantly different. It is not uncommon for job seekers to take a pay cut if they want to expand their capabilities and skills beyond their current sectors.
future of manufacturing jobs
The Boston Consulting Group did a study on the sector last year and noted that smart manufacturing could be a game changer for Singapore and will emerge as a key economic driver for the nation’s growth in the future. However, industry experts have also highlighted that there is currently an acute shortage of talent with the desired skill sets required to drive companies’ transformation into smart manufacturing. Besides having a strong knowledge across business processes, operations, technologies and people, smart manufacturing candidates are also expected to possess specific skills in rapid prototyping, design thinking and complex diagnostics.
As more and more manufacturing companies explore the benefits and opportunities that new technology can bring, we also expect a higher demand for talent to take on regional-level roles within the manufacturing function. Degree holders in manufacturing are likely to be highly sought-after as they have the in-depth knowledge, experience and skills needed to navigate this rapidly-changing landscape.
To cope with the talent shortage in the manufacturing industry, we believe companies will also increasingly invest in their existing talent pool and groom them to become the next business leaders. At a Smart Manufacturing Conference last year, industry leaders also shared some ideas on what companies are doing to close these skill gaps, which include “incentivising employees to cultivate end-to-end thinking through innovative training methods, encouraging cross-functional learning through projects to build internal capabilities, and establishing in-house academies to help workers gain perspectives into design thinking and diagnostics”. (2)
While the upskilling of technical knowledge and expertise is absolutely critical to stay relevant and competitive, we’d strongly encourage job seekers to develop their soft skills to increase their employability. These could include having good communications skills, the ability to solve complex problems, being receptive to constructive criticism and flexible to changes, just to name a few.
- Ministry of Trade and Industry Singapore. 13 August 2018. MTI Maintains 2018 GDP Growth Forecast at "2.5 to 3.5 Per Cent".
- Economic Development Board Singapore. How Singapore is addressing talent gaps in the smart manufacturing sector.
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The Randstad Blue Suite is a collection of personal insights from the Randstad leadership team.