Industry, varsities must work together to tackle graduate unemployment

A COUPLE of decades ago, a university degree meant a guaranteed path to a well-paid, stable career.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case – graduate unemployment is no longer even news.

Unemployment among those who graduated recently has risen from 86,534 graduates in 2010 to 170,105 in 2018.

Over the years, the problem has snowballed because fresh graduates enter a labour market crowded with the previous year’s unemployed graduates.

What is worse, employers would pick the fresh graduates instead of those from last year who have had about a year of the unemployment spell.

This is an important issue because after years of investing time and money, once graduated our youth are burdened with loan repayment and other costs related to starting a new life.

In the case of Malaysia, the time of finishing study also goes together with getting married and starting a family a few years later.

The expansion of higher education not only enhances economies but also broadens the mind and nurtures critical thinking.

However, the national goal to increase the rate of participation in higher education for the expansion of society brings with it the problem of graduate unemployment.

The number of graduates being produced does not match the number the job market could absorb, making it difficult for these people to find a job.

With a large supply of graduates, employers can be picky and it is often the case where graduates are pushed down to take up non-graduate jobs, which then makes it more difficult for the non-graduates to find a job until eventually, they are forced into unemployment.

The overall system results in a huge skill wastage and inefficient investment.

The question remains, should we continue to expand the participation rate in universities?

Technical and vocational education and training is a good example of an alternative door to employment, which provides practical training in technical and vocational fields.

Apart from their main role as generators of knowledge and providers of significant contributions to the civil society, universities also play an important role in equipping graduates with viable skills for high-level jobs.

We cannot rely on universities to produce custom-made graduates for every specific industry. Instead, universities have played their role in harnessing general soft skills such as teamwork skills in working together to complete assignment reports, analytical skills through exams and tests depending on the courses, communication skills when presenting ideas in group projects and thinking skills through various evaluation activities.

Industrial training, on the other hand, has been providing working experience and many interns were offered jobs immediately after finishing their internship.

It is evident from the feedback from a large majority of graduates that industrial training has benefited them.

We do acknowledge many issues related to the ineffectiveness of internship, but overall, the advantages surpassed the disadvantages of industrial training in terms of harnessing various working skills.

What is more important, however, is that employers should provide on-the-job training specific to the industry needs.

More employers should consider adopting job training by providing a framework and get their experts to fine-tune the knowledge and abilities of new workers.

Nonetheless, employers are continually voicing their disappointment that many graduates could not demonstrate basic skills, particularly in communication and the ability to speak in English.

University graduates are said to be lacking in the ability to communicate well, particularly in English, ability to work effectively with others, analytical skills, decision-making skills, solving a problem and working professionally and ethically.

Their upbringing and school experiences have largely shaped their competence level.

Women are in a worse situation because they are rarely chosen to lead an assignment group.

In general, students who come from rural areas with low family income and parental education are also found to be lacking in communication skills.

Despite impressive policy regulation in education, it is still apparent that students are expected to memorise grammar instead of practising English, write down science processes instead of conducting physical experiments and telling stories about them, copy down from whiteboards instead of presenting their ideas and understanding, and absorbing facts instead of practising critical thinking.

Much have been done in the policy reform plans but the implementation is still in question.

Universities have embedded soft skills development in their curriculum, but we cannot expect it to work perfectly, considering lecturers meet their students in large classes of 200-300 or more, for a few hours a week, where the opportunity to develop various sets of soft skills are very limited.

Despite the low face-to-face learning time, initiatives such as engaging students in problem-based learning and providing exposure to real-life data and problems have been practised quite widely.

The country’s reliance on low-skilled foreign workers has also contributed to increasing unemployment.

Companies that can obtain low-skilled workers easily at a cheap cost then blame it on the graduates who are not willing to take up dirty jobs.

This is not true because we know a lot of Malaysians are willing to commute to a neighbouring country to take up 3D (dirty, dangerous and difficult) jobs because of more attractive pay.

The real problem in the difficulty of finding workers in our 3D sector is because the wages offered are too low while the inequality between CEO-workers is increasing.

Graduate unemployment is still an important issue. We should not blame the graduates for their lack of communication skills if we nurture them in a certain environment, one where they were not trained to communicate well.

The industry, on the other hand, should play a bigger role by providing on-the-job training and create more collaboration with universities.

Our graduates are not lazy, as evident by many of them are willing to participate in the gig economy.

Many even took up jobs with below minimum salary.

What needs to be done is that we should find the missing link between the production of graduates and the absorption in the labour market. – September 27, 2022.

* Diana Abdul Wahab reads The Malaysian Insight.

* 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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  • The Government of that day and the Education System needs a reboot on what's needed and what's relevant in the years to come in terms of employment, employability, human resources and the kind of markets heading this way. Unemployment is high and we have shurnned out graduates with numbers plus we're bringing in more and more foreign labor each day.....I feel the Human Resources and JPA needs to rethink of a way how to manage and control this...or rather arrest this. I don't see these Human Resources entity are seeing eye to eye on the needs for resources today, 5 years or even 19 years from now. Just look at the number of Doctors ...... We are planning to fail

    Posted 2 months ago by Crishan Veera · Reply