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Will The National Jobs Bank End Up A White Elephant?

Will the new National Jobs Bank serve its purpose of encouraging employers to consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities? Or will it end up a white elephant and a waste of the country’s resources?

That is the question on most employers’ minds as there are mixed views on just how effective the new Jobs Bank will be, and whether it is good or bad for the employment market.

Officially launched in July by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), the Jobs Bank is a public job portal that facilitates online job matching between local job seekers and employers, with employers and recruitment agencies able to advertise job vacancies for free.

The Jobs Bank goes hand in hand with the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Fair Consideration Framework, which came into effect on 1 August 2014. According to the new rules stipulated in the framework, all companies making new Employment Pass (EP) applications must first advertise the job vacancy on the Jobs Bank. The advertisement must be open to Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs), comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, and run for at least 14 calendar days – before an EP application is submitted to MOM.

How will these two initiatives affect the jobs market, employees, employers, and recruitment agencies in Singapore?

The more cynical amongst us may view it as a political move by the authorities to “buy” Singaporeans’ votes, in which the Jobs Bank is used as a tool for the government to address local Singaporeans’ grievances of not being fairly considered for job positions.

From what I gather of the sentiment in the market, the Jobs Bank is poised to be a step forward in helping Singaporeans and PRs gain priority over foreigners in securing jobs. This is because all the positions advertised are exclusively open to Singaporeans and PRs only, and so employers who need to find local workers for purposes such as achieving the right dependency ratio for Work Permit applications can look towards the Jobs Bank as a viable resource – thus facilitating a better catchment of local workers.

Additionally, the mandatory 14-day advertisement window also serves as a deterrent to the hiring of foreigners and therefore gives Singaporeans and PRs a fairer chance of securing employment.

Positive Perceptions by Both SMEs and MNCs

It appears that the perceptions of the Jobs Bank and Fair Consideration Framework amongst SMEs and MNCs are rather positive.

According to the Hiring Trends Report 1H 2014 by Achieve Group, for instance, up to 37% of such companies surveyed in December 2013 were in favour of the Jobs Bank, agreeing that their company would “benefit from a better pool of Singaporean talent in the new online jobs bank.”

The report also found that the majority (65%) of those surveyed did not feel that the new requirements that they must now comply with under the Fair Consideration Framework are a hassle.

Having said that, 22% of employers stated that they would comply with the new rules but still intended to hire an EP holder after the 14-day advertisement period while another 11% maintained that “the new rules will not be effective in curbing the hiring of EP holders.”

Impact on Singapore Recruitment Agencies

As a major player in the Singapore recruitment industry, we are of the opinion that employment agencies are in a strong position to add value to the business community vis-à-vis the new Jobs Bank.

Besides using the Jobs Bank as an additional tool to search for candidates, we would also utilise other means to find the right candidate such as through social media or by placing job advertisements on behalf of employers on other job portals. We could then screen these candidates as a neutral party and conduct an objective assessment on whether there are suitable candidates in the local talent pool and advise clients on whether they need to bring in a foreign talent for the position – before applying for an EP. If there really is a need to hire a foreigner, we can help them apply for an EP immediately after the 14-day window is over – thus making the whole process easier, smoother and faster for companies.

Final Analysis

Ultimately, the market will determine whether the Jobs Bank is effective in deterring companies from hiring foreigners. It will boil down to two major stakeholders: the employers and the job seekers.

For employers, the main advantage of the Jobs Bank is that the advertisements are free. But having said that, I don’t think the amount of savings will be substantial enough to motivate companies to switch from using the other job portals and advertise exclusively on the Jobs Bank. This means that the Jobs Bank will continue to face competition from job portals in the private sector, which may hamper its popularity and success.

At the other end of the spectrum, job seekers are unlikely to rely solely on the Jobs Bank for their job hunt either. Should they be on the lookout for a new job opportunity, they would probably explore all avenues in finding a job and this will include the various existing job portals that are free of charge for them. Thus, there isn’t much of a pull factor for job seekers to utilise the Jobs Bank.

More importantly, however, I believe that the onus lies with the employers, as some may be resolute in wanting to have foreign employees from their overseas headquarters stationed in Singapore for job rotation purposes, which is common for MNCs, for example. If these companies are adamant about hiring foreigners, that means they will just be going through the motions with their 14-day advertisements on the Jobs Bank – and subsequently proceed to hire a foreigner anyway.

Thus, after weighing all the factors and market dynamics, my personal assessment is that the Jobs Bank may not be a very effective tool after all and may just end up a white elephant one day.

Source : Singapore Business Review, 13 August 2014