Young, educated and jobless

Tan Wan-Peng Diyana Ibrahim

LIKE most of her peers from the class of 2015, Ainatun Nadrah was looking forward to a career in the media line after graduating with a mass communication degree from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM).

After all, Ainatun did land a four-month internship at The New Straits Times in October 2014 and she thought her chances were good.

The search, however, was unsuccessful. Frustrated, Ainatun interrupted her job search to get married in October 2015. The 26-year-old gave birth to a daughter last year.

This year, Ainatun resumed her job search, motivated by the fact that she needs to start repaying a National Higher Education Fund Loan (PTPTN) of RM30,000.

But she said: “Many employers are reluctant to hire me because I am married and have a child. They also say I lack experience”.

Finally, her husband gave her RM4,000 to start an online business dealing in baby items.

In the case of Saiful Naquib Mohd Yusoff, 21, three months after graduating from UiTM this year, he has decided to go it alone.

The software engineering graduate lives in Ipoh, Perak, and said while job prospects in his home town are limited, he is reluctant to move to Kuala Lumpur because of the high cost of living.

“I was offered a job in Kuala Lumpur but the salary was only RM1,200. I can’t survive on that amount in the city,” he said, adding that his 30-month degree cost RM19,500, which he needs to repay soon.

“I also have a Mara education loan of RM32,000. It’s just that I have deferred repayment until I get a job,” said the youth from Kuala Kangsar, who is now selling honey.

Ainatun and Saiful are the faces behind the statistics, which show that nearly one in four fresh graduates fails to land a job in the first year of graduation.

Education for the masses

Yet, the World Bank and recruitment firms said one of the top business challenges for Malaysian firms is sourcing talent.

Tom Osborne, regional director at recruiting expert Hays Malaysia, said: “Malaysia’s skill shortage has been persisting and 97% of employers are struggling to find the skilled individuals they need.” (See 2017 Hays Asia salary guide.)

Prof Dr Md Zabid Abd Rashid, vice-chancellor of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UniRazak), said this is because Malaysia has too many universities.

“There are 20 public universities and 65 private universities… out of the 20 public universities, one of the key questions is how many does the government want to make as world-class institutions?

“You can’t have everybody, you can only have two or three.”

Zabid said resources should be poured only into these selected universities. The government must also decide if education is for the masses or the elite or is it an investment.

“What is the role of the government in education? Is it providing access to education to all?”

The call to cull the number of graduates might not be a popular one as the higher education sector is an important economic contributor and worth RM7.5 billion. 

In the case of Ainatun, before starting her online business, she tried to join the civil service – where competition for jobs is equally fierce.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Public Service Commission (or SPA) said it received more than one million job applications annually. In 2013, it received a record 2.1 million applicants. But the number of successful applicants went down from 46,503 in 2011 to 30,964 in 2015.

The demand indicates that the private sector is not producing enough jobs to absorb the number of graduates in the country.

Need to be flexible

Simon Si, head of regional communications at online job portal Jobstreet, said fresh graduates must also be prepared to be flexible and find jobs outside their fields of study.

“Fresh graduates really need to develop breadth of knowledge as opposed to depth of skill,” he said.

Graduates need to spend the first few years learning as much as possible (breadth) and once they have decided what they want to do, build depth (technical knowledge).

“That way, they won’t be stuck aspiring to do something they have spent three years of their lives studying.” – April 30, 2017.

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