Malaysian Graduate Employability Challenge
One of the issues that haunts graduates after their graduation is the challenge of getting a job that matches their qualifications. According to Graduate Tracer Study, Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), in 2021, 14.5 per cent or 41,467 of Malaysian graduates are still unemployed. They comprise graduates from both public and private universities, polytechnics, community colleges, public skills training institutions of various ministries and other higher education institutions. Out of this figure, 14,595 are from public universities, 18,391 from private universities and the rest are of the other institutions.
The majorities of these unemployed graduates hold bachelor and diploma degrees with the former accounted for 15.5 per cent or 18,868, while the latter 14.6 per cent or 16, 807. Out of eight field of studies surveyed by MOHE, the top three register the highest number of unemployed graduates are social sciences, business and law (14,665 or 15.6 per cent); engineering, manufacturing and construction (8,950 or 11.4 per cent); and sciences, mathematics and computing (4,113 or 12.8 per cent).
Meanwhile, based on press release on Graduates Statistics 2020 by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 31.2 per cent of graduates worked in semi-skilled and low-skilled occupation. Out of this percentage, 28.9 per cent or 1.26 million individuals are in the semi-skilled category with 11.9 per cent in service and sales sector; clerical support (9.6 per cent) and craft and trades workers (3.4 per cent). The remaining 2.3 per cent are employed in the low skilled category.
There are various contributing factors to these problems and the core to this perennial issue could be the mismatch between the skills and qualifications sought by the employers than those possessed by graduates. This is also the reason why University of Malaya (UM) recently announced that it discontinued 20 academic programmes after a study found they were no longer relevant to the market needs and current environment. By offering programmes which meet the needs of the industries, the university hopes its graduates can easily get employed in organisations in need of their skills. The same action was also taken by Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) when it replaces nine of its “impractical” academic programmes with eight new competitive and “industry-friendly” programmes shortly after the UM’s move.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the mismatch between skills and jobs exists when the education and training system do not provide the skills required by the labour market. It could also happen when jobs that correspond to the skills of individuals are unavailable in the economy. The most common types of mismatch confronted by fresh graduates are skills gaps and over/under skilling. Skills gaps ensues primarily due to graduates’ lack of workplace skills or experience required by the employers or the industries. Nevertheless in an economy where appropriate vacancies are limited and the competition among jobseekers is intense, it is common for graduates to work in sectors unrelated to their education or in line with their career goals. Some are even willing to take up jobs below their qualifications and receive lower pay as long as they get hired. In this case, they are said to be over-qualified and under-skilled.
Occupational mismatch has negative effects on productivity and job satisfaction level of an employee. Graduates with high qualification doing a lower educational requirements definitely would be paid a lower wage than they would get if employed in a matched job. This would affect their motivation and it is reflected in their performance. For companies, job mismatch means they have to deal with high absenteeism and high staff turnover because employees would look for a new job appropriate to their skills or qualification levels and, at the same time, be rewarded for the work which they do.
For most of us, attaining tertiary education requires considerable provision both in financial and time. The motivation behind this investment lies in after-graduate career prospect which consequently could also be a major determinant of lifetime income and financial well-being for an individual. Nonetheless, like any investment, it is also fraught with risks and, in this context, occupational mismatch. The scale of the risk is felt more by those with the commitment to pay off onerous education debt they have incurred during college days.
It is no doubt that employers want well-prepared graduate workforce. Thus, qualification alone does not guarantee graduates will secure jobs of their choice as businesses will also look into skills and personal capabilities of the candidates. The Quacquarelli Symonds Employer Insights Report, published in September 2020, for instance, revealed that employers surveyed worldwide give priority to soft skills, besides professional experience, as attributes they look for in graduates before hiring.
The second caliph of Islam, Saidina Umar al-Khattab (RA) used to say: “Teach your children not what is useful in your era, but what will be useful in theirs.” It is simply untenable to task the education system alone over this issue. In fact, the decision made by UM and UUM to discontinue and replace several academic programmes, for example, is commendable as it shows that the universities are doing their best to assure graduate employability after completion of the courses. As such, graduates as mature-young adults should not rely solely on what is taught in the lecture hall or from textbooks, but must also develop their soft-skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork and flexibility to improve their employability corresponding to the labour market.