LAST_UPDATEMon, 21 May 2018 8pm

'Unemployable' Graduates: When Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough To Land A Job

During the recent Invest Malaysia 2015 conference last month in Kuala Lumpur, while heads of states and financial experts discussed steering our nation's future, some of Malaysia’s brightest young minds were also discussing solutions to the country’s issues, in particular, the issue of a glaring gap between Malaysian graduates’ skills sets and the job market expectations.

A group, comprising of five Bursa Young Investors Club (BYIC) members from different universities had raised an issue, stating that though Malaysian students are equipped with knowledge, they’re clueless when it comes to applying it in the real world.

In other words, just because you’re book smart doesn’t mean you’re set for life, as cliché as that sounds. “We need practical skills in order to solve problems when we are employed,” said the group’s representative Ben Tak as quoted in a local media.

According to Tak, who is also the President of Nottingham University’s BYIC, universities need to equip students with the skills employers are looking for.

“If you compare our education system with that of Britain or Australia, those countries have a one-hour lecture per week (per subject), while we have three-hour lectures and a lot of tutorials.

“Instead of teaching us how to do it from A to Z, maybe they could guide us from A to C, and let us figure out the rest on our own,” he said.Participants of the Invest Malaysia 2015 Young Millenials ProgrammeParticipants of the Invest Malaysia 2015 Young Millenials Programme

Those attending the Invest Malaysia 2015 young millennials session were fortunate enough to have the undivided attention of both CIMB Group Holding Bhd chairman Datuk Seri Nazir Razak and his brother, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for over an hour, as they attended an exclusive closed-door session with Nazir and Najib.

As a Malaysian undergraduate, what would you tell Najib and Nazir about your expectations of your tertiary education in helping you prepare to face the job market?

Undergraduates Speak Their Mind

Malaysian Digest talked to some students on their experiences and what they hope to gain:

“I’m really terrible at memorising, which explains why I didn’t do that well at school except in subjects like English or Visual Arts. I get bored easily, and staring at the blackboard didn’t help. I’m the type that’s visually stimulated, so learning mostly from textbooks is quite challenging.

"I also learn better when I get to do it hands-on instead of only learning the facts. I know that active learning is actually exercised at schools and universities, but they’re not as thorough and they often left out the other methods of learning. I want everything to be balanced,” says Dania, an arts student at a private college.

“I wish they provide more platforms for students like me to debate. I love to analyse important issues and say what’s on my mind, but I noticed that in our culture, it’s considered rude to be too bold with your thoughts.

"I learn best through intellectual exchange of ideas. It’s also disappointing to note that critical thinking is not as encouraged; at least at my former school. So much for the KBKK (Kemahiran Berfikir Kritis dan Kreatif) thing they got going on,” says matriculation student Bavani, who’s dispirited by her learning environment.

“Can educational institutions assess and grade students only through individual and collaborative assignments and projects? At least we could get personalised feedback and know which area that we need to improve.

"This isn’t the same as spoon-feeding and rote learning where teachers or tutors would give hot tips for students on which topics to read for their exams; which don’t benefit the students at all and they’d just end up forgetting everything after the exams is over. What’s the point of learning, then?” suggests Syazwani, a Science student who will be graduating this year. For her, a direct feedback from the teacher or tutor could encourage better communication as well.

“Have you ever noticed that many students seem to enjoy the non-academic aspects of school (e.g. co-curriculum activities and sports) more than the actual academic lessons? Also, when I’m in class, my friends appear to be more enthusiastic with one another rather than paying attention to the person standing before them trying to impart some knowledge.

"Perhaps we could make learning less boring through interactive learning. Simply ‘nagging’ students why learning is important is not meaningful enough for them. They want to be a part of the process, they want to feel important, like their presence actually matters,” says Kamarul, a third-year engineering student.

He then adds ”I’ll give you an example. I had a tutor once who taught her class using computer game. The game goes something like this: the spy (students) was sent on several missions to achieve goals which include saving the world among other things. Failing to do that within a limited time frame would end in bad consequences.

"Basically, the game stimulates and encourages students to solve problems and use critical and creative thinking (aside from applying the knowledge they’ve learned so far in class) while at the same time make them feel important and that what they do has an impact to the world. And parents and teachers wonder why kids prefer to play video games over doing their homework!”

Can you notice the pattern highlighted by the students time and again?

A more hands-on approach, incorporating debate and analytical discussions; a need for more personalized feedback, less spoon-feeding and rote learning, and applying interactive learning techniques such as game play situations.

Many students instinctively know what they need but are not getting it in our tertiary public education institutions.


Overhauling A Tertiary Education System Stuck In The Rut?

It is a known fact that our education system is heavily exam-oriented. The way we view success is very distorting at best: a string of As would set you up for life. But contrary to popular belief, getting straight As in your transcript could only take you so far.

Firdaus, a recent university graduate shared an experience from a job interview.

“I was at a job interview with a super tough hiring manager. Everything went well. I thought I had nailed it, until he said ‘so, why do you think we should hire you? Forget your scholastic A-game young man, because that means nothing here’. Suffice to say, I didn’t get that job. I didn’t see that coming, and I honestly thought good grades are enough to impress employers; that’s what had been ingrained in our heads from day one. It was a great lesson learned,” says Firdaus, who now works at a multinational corporation.

More relevant job market skills like problem solving, communication, creative and critical thinking have in the past been sorely neglected in evaluating a student’s capability. All of these skills – if present and combined – could contribute to another useful skill: leadership. Many students still lack those skills, so how are they going to be a competent leader in the future if they have no such skills in the first place?

Making matters worse is the method in which subjects are being taught and presented which students find obsolete, bland and uninspiring. This approach discourages creativity and doesn’t spark curiosities from the students especially when the subject is being taught straight from the text book, then transferred onto the black/whiteboard and ends there. Whatever happens to stimulating learning methods, like role-playing for a change?

“I remember having a Math teacher who kept rushing into finishing the syllabus when SPM is still six months away, and she said that she didn’t want to be reprimanded for failing to finish the course. We are then told to take extra tuitions outside of school,” recalls Sofian, a first year undergrad student. Sometimes, the downside of syllabus is that you only learn what you’re told to learn, which narrows your mind even further.

Independent and critical thinking is mostly discouraged, especially when discussing certain issues which are sensitive. Discussions on a subject may be held here and there, but it’s still ‘controlled’.

Forget about thinking critically when it comes to anything with religious or racial undertones. Whatever you churn out during exams or assignments must be similar to that of the syllabus or textbooks. We may be full of knowledge, but how applicable the knowledge is leaves much to be desired.

When it comes to communication skills, take learning a language for instance, we’re mostly taught to read and write first; giving less emphasis on actually conversing in the language. And as we all know, Malaysian students have a poor grasp of the English language, which is vital if one wants to survive in the real world.

These ‘key ingredients’ by the Malaysian education system have inevitably produced ‘flawed products’ which are now ‘used’ in many sectors. Just like robots which have been programmed to only do as they’re told and would go through a system breakdown when it’s expected to do something out of its capacity, we’re conditioned to follow certain guidelines since young; and when we’re left to our own devices, that’s when we know we’re really doomed unless we do something about it. And fast.

Tackling Graduate Un-employability - Time To 'Reprogramme' The System

The word 'crisis' might be too harsh to use to describe the situation at present but if left untreated, this 'unemployable' graduate syndrome can potentially derail the federal government's push toward a high income nation.

The World Bank's Malaysia Economic Monitor published in December 2013 revealed that unemployment peaked among young degree holders. The report stated that one in five degree holders in Malaysia under the age of 25 were unemployed.

In 2014, the World Bank's Malaysia Economic Monitor again highlighted the Ministry of Higher Education 2013 statistics that out of 220,527 graduates in 2012, 25.6% had not secured a job six months after graduation.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Labour Force Survey report by the Department of Statistics released in June 2014 revealed that one third (31%) of unemployed in Malaysia had a tertiary education, translating to about 130,000 persons.

One third of the unemployed in Malaysia have tertiary education. Are these the kind of statistics we want for a nation enroute to Vision 2020?

On April 12 this year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had launched the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) 2015-2025 Higher Education (HE).

According to the summary of the blueprint provided in its executive summary as published on the Ministry of Education website, based on discussions and feedback from local and international academia, leaders of Malaysian higher learning institutes and the general public, the ministry recognised the “shifts” needed to transform the system.

After consulting more than 10,500 individuals and referring to studies by the World Bank, UNESCO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the blueprint will now guide the transformation of Malaysia’s higher education landscape.

They include holistic, entrepreneurial and balanced graduates; talent excellence; nation of lifelong learners; quality technical vocational education and training (TVET) graduates; financial sustainability; empowered governance; innovative ecosystem; global prominence; globalised online learning and transformed higher education delivery.

The Education Blueprint can be accessed at this link.

The key aims of the MEB (HE) are highlighted below.

The statement accompanying the blueprint best summarizes the high hopes Malaysians are placing on the much need overhaul.

“In 2013, the Ministry thus began developing the MEB (HE). Over the course of two years, the Ministry drew on multiple sources of input, from Malaysian and international education experts, to leaders of Malaysian Higher Learning Institutes and members of the public. The end product is a blueprint that was developed by Malaysians, for Malaysians, and that will equip Malaysia for the final leg of its journey towards becoming a high-income nation.”


- Malaysian Digest