Sunday, October 14, 2012

Unemployable Graduates

Getting a university degree usually symbolizes the completion of a successful education to a young adult who is eager and ready to claim financial independence and realize his dream to be the career person he wants to become. After spending between 15-17 years burying in books, burning midnight oil, sacrificing time out with friends, and to some, putting their parents in debt or financial strain, saying goodbye to academic studies and welcoming in freedom to plan and make vital decisions must be momentous and easily the greatest joy to experience. So how would you feel if your dreams are shattered when, months or even years after you've graduated, and the euphoria of getting a job soon thereafter descended into a struggle, and sometime, panic when interview after interview you are rejected? Or worst, not even called for interviews? How low can your confidence and self esteem survive when you start doubting the value of the education you received? Suddenly the pride of being a graduate, especially if you have tried so hard, or coming from a poor family become a shame when you find a fresh graduate filling the vacancy you think should be rightly yours just because you graduated earlier.

The big question is - were you under-prepared for the job market and why?

Recently THIS survey generated much responses from readers.

My initial reactions are these:

1. Too many graduates chasing after too few jobs.
2. Too many graduates unqualified to fit the vacancies due to mismatched course of studies and language deficiency with actual industry requirements.
3. Too many universities offering programs that are too academic and don't fit industry needs.
4. Young graduates putting too high a value on their academic qualifications.
5. Flawed education curriculum and approach.

Something is terribly wrong with the ways the government is managing our children's future and this is likely to ignite growing discontent against it. As parents we can blame it on the education policy (to which we have no say or control) that stress too much on academics and not enough on preparing the students to face the real world. And continual denial that English is a superior language for mass communication kills the opportunities our children need to survive in the globalized world where employers can choose candidates of any nationality with the right education and aptitude. In other word our education system failed to achieve world class or competitive standard to give our graduates employability both local and international. The best have been plucked by other nations offering better prospects and work environment.

Bickering, internal politicking, short sighted outlook, ego-centred policy changes and denial of the acute reality that we are slipping away from the list of choice destinations for investment and recruitment is making us uncompetitive.

We have a poor record of developing resourceful and resilient graduates capable to accept hard work, patience and willingness to learn new knowledge and skills. And many of these graduates started off life without basic philosophy of inquisitive learning but by rote and plagiarising other's works. This resulted in they being unsuited to work where a high degree and expectation is required for the successful candidates to identify problems and find solutions and have a good social skill to work as a team. This is where our education approach failed and this resulted in delivering inferior quality graduates that businesses reject as unsuitable. Businesses are not charities; their survival depends upon employees who can deliver results and profits.

Both government and universities are not listening to what's happening around the nation and the world and therefore not responding with appropriate curriculum. They are not talking with the trade associations in assessing their skill requirements. It is not surprising that we keep producing graduates of the wrong discipline. Many of them cannot even be called graduates due to their low level of knowledge acquisition, inability to transfer whatever they learned into real life practical situations. In other words they are educated for the sake of acquiring knowledge and not to apply them.

Dysfunctional government policies and inability to excite investors to set up more and new businesses to create more vacancies to match larger graduate output contribute to the present dismal outlook. Plus extending retirement age reduces the vacancies available to fresh graduates. Encouraging entrepreneurship is not a sustainable solution as the consumer market size is very small. Furthermore there is no guarantee without the right attitude and aptitude, these fresh graduates without the experience can succeed on their own. Continual pampering through training and financial aids will not work in the long run. The solution lie in producing graduates who are tough minded and world wise, with a keen sense to survive without any form of support and to be a proud person with confidence to succeed on his own.

And now, the soon-to-be enforced minimum wage regulation has started to see retrenchments in labour intensive industries that are going for automation. Read HERE. Retrenched workers, unemployed graduates, rising cost of living, stagnant wages - these are hotspots for rising discontent and the potential making of a Malaysian Spring. The fundamental reason being a nation that worries that the government has lost control of their future.


Julian said...

It's a problem here in the States too. Federal and local governments have a challenge to keep up with changing times. Jobs change according to economic needs, technological advances, retiring work forces, etc.

I think a lot of graduates nowadays may have lofty dreams of landing a lucrative job immediately but not understanding that textbook knowledge does not translate to real world experience. Not a lot of companies invest in internships to acclimate soon-to-be graduates to the working class (this would be the early step to hiring high potential candidates), however internships are not for every company (especially those that primarily participate in low skilled labor).

Maybe the trend today may be a side effect of a misunderstanding between what is term a job in relation to "makan gaji", and a career. The phrase "love what you do, and money will follow" does not apply to the former since love for a job hardly materializes if one constantly looks at work as a 9-to-5 activity.

The unemployment rate as reported by the US Labor department isn't entirely accurate when accounting for the unemployed in the country. The devil is in the details as it only accounts for those that request for welfare, and does not account for population growth and the long term unemployed (those retrenched and no longer looking, and the new graduates who never found work in the first place).

The solution is really for education to keep up with changing times. It's a responsibility for all - government policies down to the school level, to companies. I totally agree that downgrading the importance of the English language is a serious detriment to the employment prospects of graduates especially those who have the lofty dreams. A nation cannot be competitive if limited to specific skill sets.

IMO... In order to succeed, one needs to be skills equipped (education) and have the opportunities (advertised work). I'm not sure if there are job placement advisers at the school level to help guide students to appropriate careers through identification of personality and potential. I think too much emphasis in the past and possibly present is given to a student's potential therefore lessening the possibility that the graduate would "love" the work and translate the job to a career.

Peter Yew said...

Well said. Students must be educated and trained from very young to prepare them for work. It is of no use acquiring knowledge from school which should be turned into career preparation centers instead. The greatest mistake in our education policy is experimenting with the future of our kids with major changes according to the whims of the minister in charge. When they graduate with useless degrees and bad attitudes the government made another poor judgement of babysitting them while unemployed. Looks like we are becoming a welfare state.


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