Understanding Singapore’s Wholesale Trade Industry in 2021

Wholesale Trade  |  19 Aug 2021

Understanding Singapore’s Wholesale Trade Industry in 2021

(June to July 2021)

The wholesale trade industry is one of the pillars of Singapore’s economy, accounting for about 12% of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and providing more than 350,000 jobs, which is about 9% of Singapore’s workforce.

However, the impact of COVID-19 on the wholesale trade sector has been significant, where lockdowns and border closures have led to a drop in external demand and prolonged global supply chain disruptions. To better understand the labour challenges and the impact of evolving global trends on wholesale trade companies in Singapore, IndSights Research conducted a survey in June/July 2021.

Our study showed that the industry may struggle with manpower challenges, even as companies look to shift their talent management strategies in response to global trends. Advancements in technology, as well as COVID-19, are also pushing companies to invest in technological adoption to improve current business operations and alleviate the manpower crunch.

Manpower challenges in the wholesale trade industry

The study showed that 2 in 3 companies faced at least one of the manpower challenges listed in Chart 1. In general, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were more likely to face manpower challenges. Firms wrestle with hiring and retention issues, with one of the top challenges being that the jobs in the wholesale trade industry were perceived as less attractive.

Chart 1: The top reasons for manpower challenges in the wholesale trade sector
Chart showing the top reasons for manpower challenges in the wholesale trade sector

READ MORE: Singapore wholesale trade industry weathers pandemic storm

Key trends that would most affect wholesale trade companies in Singapore

More than 9 in 10 companies acknowledged that their business will be impacted by global trends. The global trends mentioned were increased economic volatility, changing customer expectations and demands, accelerated digitalisation, the pace of globalisation, and the growing prominence of Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance.

As seen in Chart 2 below, 7 in 10 companies saw increased economic volatility, for example due to the emergence of trade wars and black swan events, as having the most impact. This was followed by changing customer demands (56%). Perhaps in response to the external trends impacting companies, companies were looking to embrace greater adoption of technology and enhance their manpower strategies.

Chart 2: Top three key global trends that would most affect WST companies
Chart showing the top three key global trends that would most affect WST companies


Global trends’ impact on the nature of wholesale trade jobs

A majority of companies recognised the need to train employees to remain relevant (see Chart 3). While 1 in 5 companies think new jobs will be created in response to global trends, about half think that some jobs will need to be outsourced, offshored and/or be made redundant.

READ ALSO: The State of Singapore’s ICT Offshoring in 2021 


Chart 3: Global trends' impact on the nature of jobs
Chart showing the Global trends’ impact on the nature of jobs

The top three new jobs that respondents think will be created are:

  • Marketing and Digital Marketing,
  • IT Engineering, Development and Support
  • Sales and Product Development

Adjustments to manpower strategy

The study also shows that to address the impact of global trends, wholesale trade companies are calibrating their manpower strategies. 3 in 5 companies plan to enhance their job packages to retain staff, and upskilling was another strategy that was considered. The study also showed that the larger the firm, the more likely it is to consider upskilling employees due to the local talent crunch.

Chart 4 shows the top two manpower strategies to retain staff in wholesale trade sector. Other considerations include:

  • 32% will invest in more technology because of the lack of local and foreign talent
  • 29% thought that the local talent crunch will make us more reliant on foreign talent
  • 14% opined that the foreign talent crunch will make us more reliant on local talent
Chart 4: Top two manpower strategies to retain staff in wholesale trade
Chart showing the top two manpower strategies to retain staff in wholesale trade

READ ALSO: The State of Singapore’s ICT Offshoring in 2021 


Government assistance schemes

Singapore has been actively providing various support programmes across the various industries, even in pre-COVID times. Some of the schemes that might be relevant to companies in the wholesale trade industry in Singapore are listed below.

Career Trial for jobseekers

A short-term career trial for job seekers and employers to assess job fit before considering formal employment. It is targeted at full-time jobs paying at least $1,500/month or part-time jobs paying at least $750/month.

P-Max/ P-Max for older workers

To help SMEs to recruit, train and manage newly hired PMETs. SMEs can seek assistance to screen and refer suitable jobseeking PMETs, while eligible SMEs can also receive a one-off assistance grant of $5,000 (P-Max) or $10,000 (P-Max for Older Workers) upon six-month retention.

Relocation services SG-United Mid-Career Pathways programme

Mid-careers can gain industry-relevant experience by being attached to the company for up to 6 months. Upon completion, the company can hire them as permanent employees. Up to 90% of training allowances will be funded by the Government.

Wholesale trade Skills Framework

Provides useful information on sector information, career pathways, and skills maps, competencies and training which companies can tap on to enhance HR practices and improve talent strategies.

Support for Job Redesign under Productivity Solution Grants (PSG-JR)

Work with pre-approved Job Redesign (JR) consultants to redesign work processes, tasks and responsibilities to help business transformation, productivity and job attractiveness. Enhanced funding of up to 80% for consultancy services capped at $30,000.

Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP)

Career conversion programmes for midcareer PMETs to go through skill conversion to move into new jobs or sectors. Employers would receive salary support for the career conversion training duration which helps to cover the cost of hiring suitable PMETs.

READ ALSO: Other grants and resources for companies 


About the study

Our study was conducted from June to July 2021 with 530 business leaders from the Wholesale Trade industry. Companies from the Agricultural Materials, Fuels and Chemicals, General Merchandise, Household Goods, Machinery and Equipment, and Transport Equipment, were among those polled.

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