The rise of jobless graduates [New Straits Time (Malaysia)]
(New Straits Time (Malaysia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) GRADUATE EMPLOYABILITY: While universities are filled with young hopefuls who are eager to join the rat race and climb the corporate ladder, thousands quickly realise that nothing in life comes easy, especially a successful career. Field experts explain that a poor command of English, lack of confidence and unrealistic expectations are some of the main job busters. However, all is not lost for young adults, who can easily get help, learns Audrey Vijaindren.
ANITA Sude was jobless for more than a year after graduation. During this period, she harvested sago with her father in the jungles of Sarawak.
They used to earn a measly RM5 to RM7 for every 0.5m of sago trunk. They had to carry the trunks to the market. Anita could carry only one trunk, while her father could carry two at the most.
Their income was too small for the back-breaking work they had to do. Yet, it was the only source of income for the family.
"I graduated with a degree in Marine Biology from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and, yet, I could not find a job for more than a year.
"I felt pressured because I am the only graduate among my seven siblings. My family expected me to get a good job immediately after graduation," says the 27-year-old Melanau.
All that changed the day Anita found out about Skim Latihan 1Malaysia (SL1M).
"I applied online, but did not have much hope until, one day, I was called for an interview.
"I had to persuade my mother to let me go. She did not want me to travel far because she thought it was not worthwhile. She wanted me to settle for a job in Sarawak."
Eight months later, Anita graduated from SL1M.
"Today, I am an administration executive for a company that supplies and installs audio-visual and information technology equipment. I am really happy with my life now. My parents have accepted my decision to work in Kuala Lumpur and, yes, I can support them financially."
SL1M secretariat head Norashikin Ismail says many young adults still do not have the confidence or right attitude to enter the job market, even after graduation.
"We are here to help them, but fresh graduates need to help themselves first. Unfortunately, how can they do so, if they do not know what they lack?
"They need to have the right attitude and must get out of their comfort zones."
SL1M is part of a corporate social responsibility programme under the Economic Planning Unit, aimed at giving back to society. It focuses on helping underprivileged graduates enter the job market through internships and attachments.
The programme was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on June 1, 2011, as part of efforts to increase graduate employability. SL1M 2012 is a continuation of the initiative.
During the attachment period of between eight and 12 months, participants receive an allowance of at least RM1,000 each, which will be paid directly by the companies involved in the training scheme.
Participants are required to undergo at least two months of soft- skills training and six months of on-the-job training with the companies. They will be assisted by the companies to land jobs before the end of their stints in the programme.
In two years, 42,000 of the programme's graduates have landed jobs.
Norashikin says many graduates have personality issues and problems holding conversations in English.
"Most of them are introverts, who are extremely shy and reserved. There are also those who are quite shallow. They are able to read, memorise and regurgitate. But, when you mix things up, they are unable to connect the dots.
"The most problematic issue is that they are afraid to converse in English. They may have good qualifications on paper, but they are afraid of speaking in English for fear of making mistakes.
"Most of them come from different levels in society. If they hail from a state with a particular dialect, they are even more intimidated. Some get mocked by their friends if they speak in English."
Unfortunately, not all attachments have yielded positive results. Some of the feedback that Norashikin has received from companies include unrealistic job expectations and attitude problems.
"It is not easy dealing with Gen Y employees because when their superiors at work correct them, they throw in the towel. If they are unhappy with the smallest things, they just up and leave after a few months. They think the world revolves around them.
"They think: `I am a graduate, so I need to be treated a certain way. Do not ask me to photocopy or fax things, stay a minute later at work or do anything that is not specified in my job description.'
"Recently, we arranged for some SL1M candidates to have interviews at a public-listed company. Although they were for executive positions, the newbies would be required to work in shifts.
"Out of 3,000 candidates, only 30 showed up for the interviews. And, after hearing the job description, only a handful accepted the positions. It is a crime to not get a job in Malaysia and, yet, thousands are unemployed.
"There are 130,000 graduates who want to join SL1M. While we would like to help all of them, the reality is that there are limited companies willing to take them. Our hope is that companies realise that by taking in SL1M graduates, they are giving back to society.
"You may need to change their mindset and groom them, but these graduates are rare gems, especially those from rural areas. Despite their circumstances, they got themselves into universities."
So far, there are 120 government-linked and private companies involved with SL1M.
"We are only a team of 12, with barely any facilities or budget. If we can find jobs for 42,000 graduates in two years, I am sure others can do this and much more.
"Besides the double tax deduction, some companies will be able to join SL1M through the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF)-SL1M scheme. This enables the companies to utilise the HRDF levy to train SL1M graduates as future workers."
Norashikin says the ultimate goal is for companies to equip the graduates with five work skills.
"The first is mastering communication, be it in English, Bahasa Malaysia, presentation or public speaking. Second is problem solving, and creative and analytical thinking. It is time for them to think out of the box.
"Organisational adaptability is the third area to focus on. Fourth, they should be value-driven professionals, so if they are checked on by the `dragon lady' in the office, they should take it as a challenge to prove that they can do better. The fifth skill includes proper grooming and etiquette."
She says it is time to stop raising a "strawberry generation" that is easily bruised.
"We do not want graduates who have to be taught everything. Most companies are willing to hire graduates who are not experts in their field, but few establishments want to deal with employees who cannot take criticism."
Preparing graduates to be workforce-ready
UNIVERSITI Putra Malaysia deputy vice-chancellor of industry and community relations, and graduate employability (GE) technical adviser to the Education Ministry Prof Dr Renuganth Varatharajoo says low GE is attributed to many factors.
"Although a poor command of language is one of the main reasons many graduates fail in job interviews, it is not the only reason.
"Other factors include lack of confidence and independence, poor attitude and aptitude, and lack of problem-solving skills and critical thinking."
He says cash alone will not solve the GE problem in the country, but that there needs to be a synergy between cash, effort, persistence and the right GE programmes.
Setia Haruman business development head Sudhev Sreetharan says the company feels socially responsible to start the Cyberjaya Graduate Employability Enabler (CGEE) to solve Cyberjaya's talent requirement problem.
"It was meant to complement the GE efforts undertaken by the government and its agencies, as undeniably, there are a number of unemployed graduates out there.
"Via CGEE, we train and improve the marketability of graduates by improving their English communication and management skills, providing exposure, building confidence and character, and helping them form the right attitude.
"We hope to identify the root cause of the GE mismatch in the field of Information and Communications Technology in Cyberjaya, as it is evident that there is a talent requirement gap between local university graduates and Cyberjaya's multinational companies' employment requirements."
Sudhev says the CGEE case-study design involves three months of immersion training for fresh graduates in Cyberjaya and co-location to enable group experiential learning, as well as to expose them to a global work culture.
"We hope to create an environment in which to foster teamwork and collaboration. We also wish to provide technical exposure in a real- life business environment.
"The curriculum is designed to build graduates' confidence via motivational talks, interactions at different professional levels and business communication practices."
Multimedia Development Corp talent director Imran Kunalan says the company has trained 61,922 undergraduates and fresh graduates, with 93 per cent of them gaining employment.
"The only long-term solution to the GE issue (can be attained) by looking at its root cause, which calls for better language capability dissemination at the school level.
"We also need to create an environment in which students can practise using the language continuously.
"Undoubtedly, local graduates' ability to interact in English has deteriorated, compared with previous years. This issue has been highlighted in multiple forums and, yet, the industry seems to be frustrated with the outcome of remedial action.
"A more intensive English course at the tertiary level can be useful, but this has to be coupled with continuous practice."
He says students and graduates from rural areas have a tendency to conform to their cultural settings.
"Their neighbourhoods are not conducive for them to converse in English. Even at school, it is sometimes deemed as 'showing off' to do so, and because of peer pressure, students revert to using the language that they are used to.
"This differs in an urban environment, where students are more exposed (to English). Something needs to be done."
Imran says one of the key problems in hiring fresh graduates today is their lack of knowledge of the business world.
"Students tend to wait for their lecturers to spoon-feed them. But, in the modern world, everyone has access to a vast amount of knowledge through the Internet and other mediums.
"Students need to gather as much information that is relevant to their fields of study as possible. It is no longer acceptable that preparations to join the workforce only start at the tail end of their studies.
"Participation in relevant activities is critical. A prospective employer is looking for value-added traits, beyond academic excellence."
Talent Corporation Malaysia Bhd head of Malaysian talent development-graduate employability Siti Norliza Mohd Sahar says a big reason affecting graduates' chances of employment is confidence.
"For example, when attending career fairs, some graduates do not portray themselves as potential employees by holding good conversations with recruiters. Many just ask where they can drop off their resumes.
"Lack of preparation is another reason graduates do not get employed. This was the impetus behind the development of our online self-learning portal, Ready4Work, which houses a lot of industry- relevant content to prepare undergraduates for employment.
"We conduct outreaches via sector-focused career fairs, on- campus engagements and career-related activities, such as industry visits and competitions.
"In collaboration with the Education Ministry, we are implementing the Structured Internship Programme, which aims to give undergraduates a meaningful internship experience."
Making career dreams come true
VIMLESWARY Sivasubmaniam, 27, had only one dream: to work for an oil and gas company. Her father used to be a driver, but kept cows for their milk to supplement the family's income.
"Every day, we had customers who came to our house to buy fresh milk. Though I did not help with the milking, I cleaned the cowsheds."
After graduating with a business administration degree, she applied for a graduate programme.
Of the 8,000 applicants, only 200 were selected for training, which was sponsored by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). Vimleswary was one of the lucky few.
Like the other trainees, she cried upon learning that the training was hard, starting from 6am and finishing at midnight. Yet, it turned out to be the best time of her life, as she is now proudly working in Shell's Human Resources Department.
Ong Chin Eng, 26, is the son of a rubber tapper. Growing up in Tangkak, Johor, he went along as a youngster to collect rubber during the school holidays.
Ong and his parents tapped trees and collected rubber from 7am to 10am. They would be bitten by mosquitoes and ants.
Like many poor folk, his family knew that education was the way out of poverty.
"My parents encouraged us to study hard. But, I feel that luck also played a big part in me getting a place in university. I am the only university graduate in my family."
After graduation, he was jobless for more than two months. But, his friend saw an advertisement for a graduate employability programme and encouraged him to apply.
Ong was recruited for the BNM programme, which turned into Skim Latihan 1Malaysia. Upon completing the programme, he was hired as an information technology officer at a reputable company.
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