JOHOR BARU: The unemployment situation among graduates has grown from a matter of gnawing concern to an issue that leaves furrows in the brows of education planners.
Our 21 public-sector universities and 38 private-sector universities produce something like 51,000 graduates a year, but nearly 60% remain unemployed one year after graduation, according to a study in 2018 conducted by the Minstry of Education Malaysia's Graduate Tracer Study.
Furthermore, there are more than 5,000 postgraduate students sitting for doctoral programmes each year, a trend that will bring the total number of Ph.D holders in the country to 60,000 by 2023, according to statistics disclosed in Parliament in 2016 by the Higher Education ministry.
In recent years, being a university graduate no longer guarantes you a job.
As the number of graduates continue to spiral, graduating students are facing frustratingly long waiting periods for openings amidst a sputtering economy.
Associate Professor Dr. Hariharan N Krishnasamy of Universiti Utara Malaysia said universities and most educational institutions provide graduates with academic and professional qualifications within a more stable and predictable environment.
According to Hariharan employers require much more than working on set routines or mechanical tasks that have textbook solutions.
“There could be situations in which graduates are required to perform tasks that are outside their area of expertise,” he said.
However, he noted that the widening gap between what the institutions of learning produce and what industry expects in terms of technical and soft skills had led to more unemployment challenges.
He said the problem becomes more acute as the number of job seekers is higher than job vacancies.
He said that graduates need to see the importance of entrepreneurship skills because it opens paths for career advancement.
“Graduates need to make themselves more marketable and equip themselves with multiple skills that are not confined to their area of study,” he added.
Chan Seng Chow, chief operating officer at Tasek Maju Realty Sdn Bhd, said there was no simple solution to mountng graduate unemployment.
He added the issue was complex as different stakeholders had different views on unemployment and underemployment.
A constant complaint of employers was that fresh graduates do not have the relevant skills and knowledge.
Furthermore, Chan said many graduates had unrealistic salary expectations even as they struggle with the basics of the interview process, adding that the “disparity between the impression they make at the interview and their salary expectations' were too jarring to ignore.
Meanwhile A.D. Menon, senior human resource and training manager at New York Hotel, said some graduates were willing to settle for lower salaries the job market demanded that they should have experience before they were considered for a senior post.
Exacerbating the situation was the phenomenon of graduates who go for interviews in Singapore where they don't obtain the salary levels they ask but they are realistic enough to settle for less.
They gain experience at their jobs and then become qualified for positions in Malaysia but because the Singapore dollar is almost three times the value of the Malaysian equivalent, these successful graduates were disinclined to return home and be useful to the Malaysian economy.