Budget 2022 – upskilling, reskilling and underemployment

BUDGET 2022 is formulated to drive economic recovery by casting a wider net of inclusivity and sustainability. The recovery, resilience and reform of the nation is emphasised, also with the aim to produce a competent workforce to persevere the changing future job landscape and challenges. However, such move has to be long-term centric.

The wellbeing of many segments of the society must have continuous strategic rebuilding, which requires measures that facilitate the development of upskilling and reskilling, create new and long-lasting job opportunities as well as protect existing jobs. This will create a more sustainable growth for both the people and the nation.

An allocation of RM4.8 billion has been channelled towards creating 600,000 job opportunities under the Jamin Kerja initiative. Also, RM1.1 billion is allocated upskilling and reskilling programmes. It is hoped that these initiatives will further reduce the unemployment rate to 4%. In the previous Budget 2021, a sum of RM3.7 billion was allocated for the Jana Kerja initiative. The emphasis is on creating new job opportunities with employment recruitment and short-term employment programmes.

This shows that the budget initiatives are short-term centric. What will become of the initially hired individuals after the allocation ends? Will they lose their job and thus contribute to further unemployment in the near future? Jobs created may not be consistent with the needs of the production structure. The present movement to reduce unemployment by providing a short-term job guarantee will also lead to severe long-term human capital development and continuous underemployment. Such a move will result in low growth of sustainable skills development.

The development of human capital is aligned with the ever-changing global mega trends such as demographic shifts towards urbanisation, digitalisation, disruptive technologies, ageing population, among others. The progress of these trends shapes the structure of future jobs, skills development, and demand in the education system. We do not want to fall into a state of underutilised potential human capital. It is crucial to look at human capital development in a wider dimension, both in the present recovery stage and future. This includes workforce skills development, educational attainment, population health and employment policies to meet the skills required and the capability to adapt with challenges.

The Labour Market Review for the second quarter of 2021 produced by the Statistics Department in August 2021 stated that skill-related underemployment depicted an increase to 37.7% in Q2 2021 from 36.5% in Q2 2020. This portrays that tertiary graduates are working in semi-skilled and low-skilled jobs by taking up work that do not match their qualifications. The pandemic has also seen a shift in the workforce, resulting in mismatch in skills required and the positions in the job market, although the issues of job mismatch have existed prior to Covid-19. This is a critical structural issue in the labour market and the education system, which needs structural reforms, instead of stop gap measures presented in Budget 2022.

In October 2021, the department released a report on Job Vacancies Landscape for the second quarter of 2021, stating that online job vacancies increased for four consecutive quarters (Q3 2020 to Q2 2021). The big data analytics done through web scraping techniques from four popular recruitment websites described that the jobs demanded by employers are professional category workers (50.8%), technicians and associate professionals (19.2%) and managers (18.4%). Additionally, the top five most popular jobs by ranking are advertising and marketing professionals, administrative associate professionals, managing directors and chief executives, accountants and auditors as well as software developers.

Knowing that there are economic structural changes to skill-related underemployment, job mismatch, increase in online job vacancies, types of job demanded, rise in gig economy and the existing lack in skills, the focus must be on implementing short and long-term measures to assist underutilised workers, especially those with less disposable income.

The upskilling and reskilling initiatives must be targeted to not only bringing down the unemployment rate, but also to deal with the structural changes in the labour market. This will create a more sustainable approach in managing underemployment, retrenched workers and fresh graduates. – November 3, 2021.

* Abel Benjamin Lim is an economist at Bait Al Amanah, an independent research institute that helps improve policy and decision-making process through sound and multidisciplinary research and analysis.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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