2.0 Causes unemployment in Malaysia
2.1 Lack of experience
Nowadays, the employer will find the worker who had a lot of experienced one compared to the one without experience. Lack of experience and skills are also causes of graduate unemployment. Generally, most organizations prefer to employ graduates with experience. Furthermore, in Malaysia, the private sector today is not interested in recruiting local graduates because they lack essential skills, such as proficieny in English and interpersonal skills (Nor Hartini, 2007). There appears to be a disparity between what employers require and what skills graduates have. In view of this, the government has implemented several measures to reduce the problem of graduate unemployment. One such measure is the introduction of several Training programmes for fresh graduates. For instance, the Ministry Of Human Resources, through their training agencies, has introduced the 'Unemployed Graduates Training Scheme' in order to equip graduates with certain skills and experience (Chapman, Chew& Tan,2007). The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, likewise, has initiated a programme where established retailers have started recruiting graduate and diploma holders as management trainees. This scheme aims to not only provide employment opportunities for fresh graduate but also to expose them to fields in the private sector other than the ones they specialized in (Chin, 2007).
Another measure involves a review of the tertiary education system. Soft skill Development should be incorporated into the education curriculum where students can participate in extra curricular activities to enhance soft skills such as personal qualities, interpersonal skills and, critical and creative thinking (Nor Hartini, 2007). These soft skills should be acquired through participation in extra curricular activities while they are studying for their degrees. A lecturer, for instance, can develop students' skills and knowledge by stimulating their minds with discussions and case studies. According to Nor Hartini, these skills will enable them to communicate effectively, manage relationships, lead team, solve problems and succeed in the job market. Thus, it is evident that lack of skills and experience are the main causes for graduate unemployment. To overcome this problem, the Ministry of Higher Education must ensure that the tertiary education system is relevant and up-to-date. It should continually evaluate the tertiary programs to help produce quality graduates who meet the needs of industries. Also industries need to play their part by providing more opportunities for training fresh graduates while the graduates themselves need to be more open and take up these offers.
2.2 Lack of social and communication skill
Many employers cited lack of necessary communication skills, poor command of English and lack of confidence during interviews had led to increasing number of unemployed graduates. Don said communication skills and language proficiency were best acquired through constant practice. According to the Minister of Human Resources, more than 65% of female graduates in this country are employed because they lack social and communication skills in addition to a poor command of language and low levels of self confidence. He added that many female graduates had achieved excellent academic results but could not secure employment without the relevant skills required in the labor market. The number of unemployed female graduates is also much higher in comparison male graduates (The Star, 2005). It has been assumed that the lack of experience and skills are the causes leading to the unemployment of graduate's. In Malaysia, the private sector today is not interested in recruiting local graduates because they lack several important skills, such as the capacity to communicate well in English, a lack of ICT proficiency, and a lack of interpersonal skills. This scenario reveals that, there is a skills gap between what skills are required by employers and what skills graduates have. Suitable degree programs are not the only mechanisms for developing work skills in higher education. Students are encouraged to take part in extra curricular activities which may assist them in developing soft skills. It is important for a student to begin accumulating as much work related experience (soft skills) as early as they can. Soft skills are generally categorized into three areas; character, interpersonal skill and critical and creative thinking. These skills enable one to communicate effectively, manage relationships, lead a team, and solve problems. Soft skill development should be inculcated into the education syllabus. It is important to teach soft skills required to survive and succeed in the work market.
According to the Dearing Report (NCIHE, 1997) the primary purpose of higher education is to prepare students for the world of work. Graduates need to be given opportunities to develop generic attributes besides disciplinary knowledge. Generic attributes include communication skills, problem-solving skills, computer literacy, information literacy, ability and willingness to learn, and teamwork. Previous research conducted on graduate employment addressed generic competencies as skills, abilities and attributes that complement the field of specialization of employees for work performance (Day, 1988; Sandberg, 1991; Sohal, 1997; & Mitchell, 2003 cited in Quek, 2005). It was noted that employers prefer workers who had generic competencies like interpersonal skills, and leadership skills, teamwork, oral and written skills (Lee et al, 2001, cited in Quek, 2005). Most academia in Malaysia feel that the education system is only concerned with results. These are the processes in Teaching and Learning, and part of the process is the way the assessment strategies are designed and whether the instructional strategies and the students’ learning experience compensate with what the course is designed for. It was again reported that there were plenty of jobs but many graduates cannot fit into the positions because they lacked the necessary skills (language and communication skills) that their prospective employers were looking for. This view is supported by the Higher Education Ministry of Malaysia (HEMM), that unemployment among graduates is due to the lack of generic competencies in undergraduates program; there was lack of application of classroom learning in the tertiary education to the workplace performance. In a research conducted by McHardy and Henderson (1994), a ‘knowledge/skills matrix was develop to facilitate the gap that might occur in the transition of knowledge and skills during which the students are undergoing their process of learning. The matrix has helped educators to see the changes that need to be made to the pedagogic technique (lectures, presentation, and tutorial activities). The integration of creativity into business education aids students in preparing for the creative workplace environments that are becoming more common as organizations seek to develop creative competencies as one of their few sustainable competitive advantages in today’s marketplace (Driver, 2001). A degree alone is not enough to succeed in today’s competitive job market. In a survey reported by the BBC, four out of 10 large employers in the United Kingdom struggled to fill graduate vacancies because of a shortage of applicants with the right skills. Another study done by Monash University in Australia, showed that more than one-third of foreign students graduated from Australian universities had very poor English skills (Azizan, 2007). According to the study, all graduates tested had enough command of the language to cope with most situations but were still not capable of conducting a sophisticated discourse at a professional level The study reported that 23.5% of students from Malaysia did not meet the required English standard.
2.3 Education in Malaysia. Choosing the wrong course and the poor result
In a Malay Mail article yesterday, it was highlighted that a substantial portion of the registered 66,000 unemployed graduates are from some of the most popular courses. Business administration, computer and information technology, and engineering are the most sought-after courses by many school leavers. This has resulted in a high number of unemployment among graduates from these disciplines – 19,900 business administration graduates, 9,500 from computer and information technology, and 7,500 engineering graduates. While it may not have been intended, the article may have inadvertently sent the message to prospective university students that the above courses are to be avoided due to low demand for their skills post-graduation. I'd like to state that this will probably be a wrong "read" of the above statistics.
First of all, while the number of graduates unemployed from these courses are the highest, the article did not give any statistics on proportion of candidates from each of these faculties are unemployed. This information will be key, as given that the above courses are the largest faculties in the universities in Malaysia (or even inclusive of overseas universities), then obviously the likelihood will be the absolute numbers of unemployed from these faculties will be largest is very high. For e.g., the number of students taking B. Sc. Chemistry probably do not exceed 2,000 students in the entire Malaysia per annum, and will hence never make it to the top unemployed list, even *if* possibly up to 50% of them remain unemployed.
Secondly, a point which I will further comment in subsequent blog entries, many of the students of these courses, particularly those in IT and Engineering should not have "qualified" for these courses in the first place. It is my opinion that many of the students from STPM/SPM who have been accepted into these courses in the Malaysian universities, should never have qualified for these courses in the first place. The entry level of the courses in some of the local universities has been set so low, that these poor students will never have a chance to perform credibly in these courses - resulting in their unemployment status. For e.g., I've seen many many graduates will very poor results in Mathematics (and Additional Mathematics) in SPM/STPM but qualified for these courses. With a poor foundation in Mathematics, it would have been better for these candidates to have taken other courses which they may have performed better. Without giving undue disrespect to the weaker candidates, if you don't have at least a B4 for your additional mathematics for SPM, avoid Engineering or Computer Science courses! In Singapore, the requirements are even higher with candidates accepted into these courses only if they have a minimum "B" grade for the Further Mathematics in 'A' Levels.
Further to the second point above, the courses in Computer Science and Engineering in many of the local universities are already very lacking in academic rigour. With a large number of candidates graduating with CGPAs below 3.0, it is unsurprising that this lot becomes "unemployable" in the Malaysian private sector. The bottomline is, students should pick courses based on their capabilities and not based on what's apparently "in-demand" out there (e.g., IT courses). If you are not cut out for IT or Engineering, putting yourselves through the courses is not going to make you more employable in the IT or Engineering markets. I can testify that there is a shortage of IT candidates in Malaysia, and we need more capable IT staff. However, that does not mean that we'll employ anybody who receives a piece of degree paper (no matter how bad his grades are abilities are).
I've just completed yesterday, a job interview with a candidate with a degree in Multimedia from a local private university. From a fairly candid discussion with regards to the degree course content and the candidates job prospects, it has encouraged me to write about an issue that has been on my mind for a while - the "neither here nor there" degree courses. To give a bit of background, in the internet and multimedia industry today, there are typically 2 types of candidates employers are looking for - (1) the computer programmer (obviously) and (2) the graphic/multimedia designer (to design the various interactive screens, animated sequences etc.). The Bachelors degree in Multimedia is not the only such course around which is weak and often do not meet the demands of the IT employers. There are now plenty of fanciful IT courses with trendy names hoping to attract students into these faculties - a commercial ploy by many of these colleges. Some of the courses which I find are particularly weak and are "neither here nor there" would be degrees in "e-commerce", "internet technology", "multimedia application management" etc. What makes the situation worse is many students specifically choose some of the above subjects because they are known to be less academically rigourous, and hence providing them with an easier path to a degree in IT or computer science. Unfortunately, there is a lack of objective information evaluated by independent parties on the usefulness of these courses in the job market. Students are therefore advised to consider very carefully the courses to choose to subscribe to in university as a supposedly minor difference between "multimedia" and "computer science" will actually result in vastly different outcomes subsequent job placement and future career options. The government for obvious reasons will not be able to discriminate between the better or poorer graduates in terms of qualifications. Hence as a result, easily employable first class honours graduates will still qualify for the scheme (should the employers be aware of the scheme in the first place). As a result, part of the subsidy is basically "wasted" on graduates who may have otherwise found easy employment irrespective of whether the subsidy was available. However, there being no statistics or studies provided to show the quality of candidates who have managed to find work with the scheme - it'll be difficult to measure its actual effectiveness. As an employer myself, I'm more than happy for the scheme to continue because I will be able to obtain subsidy for candidates whom I would have hired anyway. As part of the scheme however, the government should first engage qualified consultants to conduct seminars to assist these graduates improve their employability. This tasnk should actually be that of our universities, but unfortunately they have not been able to fulfil their role in this. The very first step to gaining employment is to have a decent resume which will "open the door" to an interview with the prospective employers. This is a case of the graduates not being serious in the job application process. The process today is now so convenient via emails and internet recruitment sites, they no longer pay serious attention to detail and no longer attempt to review their resume and application. They just "rush" to complete and submit the application without giving thought to the fact that submitting a hastily completed application and poorly formed resume is not going to increase the chances of employment by much.