In gloomy economic climate, uncertainty clouds job market

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Where will job seekers go to look for jobs and in what field in this gloomy economic climate, writes David Yeoh.

It will be a challenging year for job seekers and for those still holding a job as uncertainty clouds the global economy. But according to employers, they will still maintain or increase their hiring of personnel.

China’s shrinking economy and the plummeting prices of oil and major commodities will certainly dampen the job market as a whole. The gloomier prospects may also be due to the expected slowing down of Malaysia’s economy.

Job seekers will not be as happy as they were two to three years ago, but it is still early in the year to predict hat will unfold. The number of Malaysian professionals fearful of losing their jobs has more than doubled since 2014; yet the local workforce remains fairly confident about the job market.

Many jobseekers are willing to accept lower salaries, accept contract jobs instead of a permanent position, take up less-desired jobs in less desired posts or fields, or work part-time while being thrifty. These are just a few of the way ways that job seekers especially the young graduates handle the uncertain job market today.

With talk of yet more retrenchments and hiring freezes this year, young job seekers find themselves willing to make sacrifices to secure employment in the current gloomy economic climate.

A survey found that 13% of Malaysian employees were worried about their job security in 2015, compared with 6% in the previous year. This optimism was expressed according to age, however, with professionals in the 25-34-year-old age bracket being the most optimistic over job security (80%), compared with 56% among those aged 55-64.

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This has resulted in many employees seeking other job opportunities after they receive their bonuses. This happens usually in the early part of the year, especially after Chinese New Year and in March.

According to a human resources cabinet minister, retrenchments in Malaysia could last until 2017. The minister added that most Malaysians are worried about losing their jobs due to the gloomy economic climate and advised them to look for work in other fields.

With sliding fuel prices, the oil and gas industry is one of the hardest hit, as news broke that Petronas is considering a voluntary separation scheme (VSS) for its employees. This was followed by BP, which had also reportedly announced plans to cut down its global workforce by 5%.

The Edge Weekly had earlier reported that Shell Malaysia would cut 1,300 upstream jobs over the next two years, adding that job cuts in the oil and gas industry were expected because of the collapse in oil prices.

In Malaysia, the situation does not look promising. The Malaysian Employers Fede­ration (MEF) pointed out that the banking, services and construction sectors were facing challenging times and admitted that it is not a good time for the job market. It said that many companies are not hiring new workers, nor are they replacing employees who have retired or resigned.

So the question is, where will job seekers go to look for jobs and in what field? What about those in employment who grow more fearful each day due to job losses as a result of retrenchments, VSS or even mutual separation schemes?

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With the current gloomy economy and the higher cost of living, it is not easy to look for a second job either. Finding a first job is difficult enough, what more looking for a second job.

Some observers say, based on experience and observation, that the job market in Malaysia is not going to improve any time soon. Some even foresee employment opportunities worsening this year compared to last year.

A word of advice to new job seekers: be realistic and consider offers made by prospective employers. The longer jobs eekers stay unemployed, the more difficult it is to build a career and find the right job.

As for those who are already employed, stay put in your current jobs and wait for economic conditions to strengthen before moving on.

David Yeoh Beng Tatt is an Aliran member based in Penang.

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