NST Leader: Young, schooled and jobless

GRADUATE unemployment in Malaysia used to be the man-bites-dog kind of news. It is no longer the case.

From tens of thousands unemployed graduates a decade ago, it has snowballed to more than a hundred thousand over the last several years. Last year 187,000 graduates were out of a job, notching 7.4 per cent unemployment rate.

It can only get worse with 5.92 million graduating last year from the ever-growing number of universities in the country. An old retort from the Education Ministry was: unemployed graduates lack skills, knowledge and attitudes sought by employers. Not so quick, we say.

All — the ministry, universities, students and employers — must give the issue a deep think if they want to take the country forward. A first step is to admit a deep disconnect among the four players in the graduate employment game. All see graduate unemployment as the others' problem. This is a formula for perpetuating the problem ad infinitum. We must say all four players in the graduate employment game have succeeded in doing just that.  

We have heard the Education Ministry's response of old. But what is it doing about skills, knowledge and attitudes that the graduates are said to lack? Private institutions of higher learning may not be under its full control, but public universities are. We can understand if graduate unemployment was last year's problem. It isn't.

Our graduates have been jobless for decades. What is more, the unemployment numbers are churned out by the ministry. A solution could have started there.

Certainly, the government isn't wrong in its ambition in seeing to it that as many Malaysians as possible become graduates. The more knowledgeable a society is, the better the country will be. Some analysts think that more universities mean more graduate unemployment. This is being simplistic.

The right question to ask is: what kind of universities, not how many. There are more than 100 institutions of higher learning, 20 of which are public universities. How many of these serve the needs of Malaysia or the world at large? No easy answer here because hardly any have asked the question.  

Universities, too, appear to be comfortable in their ivory tower.  They often claim that they are turning out employable graduates. Employers disagree. Many graduates just don't meet their criteria, say employers.

The problem lies with both. With the exception of a few, neither is talking to the other, let alone working with each other. Employers continue to create low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs, which in 2021 made up 70 per cent of the Malaysian economy, according to a Khazanah Research Institute study conducted last year.

The universities, on the other hand, continue to supply graduates with tertiary education. This mismatch has two results: one, skills-related underemployment or two, unemployment. This is undoubtedly a business issue for both the universities and employers to solve. No solution will come their way if both persist in arguing from different premises, pardon the pun.

Students, too, need to do some serious thinking. Why flock to courses such as social science, business and law when they produce the most unemployed graduates? There is something for policymakers to think about, too. Work is the future for the young. They must help them find it once they walk out of the gates of the campus.

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