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Tackle grey areas of youth unemployment

Public universities like UUM must remain neutral

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Issues related to youth unemployment are complex and reflects our industrial culture, which requires a major shift in thinking, writes Ronald Benjamin.

Youth unemployment has been a concern for some time now.

Last year saw record 10.8% unemployment among youth, according to an Malaysian Industrial Development Fund report (Edge Financial Daily, 4 May 2018).

According to the report, the rising youth unemployment rate was mainly contributed by the soaring numbers of unemployed graduates, about 204,000 constituting 40.5% of total unemployment.

While low-skilled job vacancies made up 86.3% of job vacancies in 2017, high-skilled job vacancies more suited for fresh graduates, such as professionals and technicians and associate professionals, accounted for a meagre 4.1% of job vacancies. According to the MIDF, youth unemployment could be due to a mismatch of skills.

In this context, I welcome the Jobs Malaysia portal 2.0, officiated by M Kula Segaran, the Minister of Human Resources, which provides 162,000 job opportunities in nine categories, for job seekers.

While such a portal would help match jobs, certain underlying grey factors in youth unemployment should be taken into consideration by the Ministry of Human Resources.

Starting from the bottom

Looking at the MIDF report, it seems there are more vacancies for low-skilled jobs. The fact is employers always encourage fresh graduates who have an academic background to start from below to understand the underlying nature of a particular profession before moving up the hierarchy.

For example, hotel management graduates have to go through a process of starting at the bottom of the hierarchy as a guest service assistant before moving up the ladder in the front office. Their degrees become valuable only after two years of concrete ground experience. Many graduates are not willing to get their hands dirty at the starting level or to be paid a lower salary.

Graduates need more experience

It is unreasonable to assume that graduates are professionals when they have to learn skills that come with constant practice and experience over time. This complements the particular course they have taken.

For example, a month ago I attended a job fair at Ipoh Polytechnic. I was there to recruit skilled technicians as interns for the maintenance department of the hotel where I worked. Many of them came from electronics, electrical and mechanical engineering backgrounds. None of them had experience in hands-on skills such as wiring, plumbing, and carpentry, which was in demand at the hotel I worked. Only four of them were recruited as interns; they took up a course in servicing air-conditioners, which was relevant to the hotel.

This clearly reveals not just a mismatch of skills but also the type of limited courses offered in hands on-skills or the lack of students in these institutions who would prefer hands-jobs such as carpentry, wiring, plumbing and servicing air-conditioners.

Preference for diploma-holders

Employers especially in the service industry tend to prefer taking in diploma-holders rather than graduates due to salary constraints. The thinking is that those with degrees will not stay along due to the lower salary being offered. This puts graduates in a difficult position to obtain jobs as they have to compete with diploma-holders.

Ethnic prejudice

Malaysia today is still caught up with ethnic prejudices when it comes to work ethics which is use to stereotype the entire community. Certain positions in the private sector such as accounting, graphic designing and purchasing are dominated by certain ethnic groups. These jobs are relatively well paying, and communities from the majority and other minority communities are deprived of these opportunities.

Some ethnocentric employers think that other ethnic groups are not good in numbers, not hardworking, possible troublemakers. Such employers would only trust their own ethnic group with the management of money. The setting up of an equal opportunities commission to address such discrimination in hiring is vital in tacking youth unemployment.

Inadequate internship duration

Aspiring graduates today need to go through an internship for three to six months. This duration is inadequate when substantial experience is needed to perform in certain jobs. Graduates have to compete with seniors who have a couple of years’ experience. Unemployment results in such a context. Corporations and universities should agree on a reasonable internship duration for certain jobs that require longer experience.

Too many low-skilled jobs?

If there are a significant number of vacancies for low-skilled jobs, as reported by the MIDF, why is there high unemployment among youths? Could it be due to the influx of foreign workers? Why are there low-skilled and low-wage jobs when Malaysia is supposed to be moving up towards a higher value chain to become an advanced nation? Why are employers reluctant to make such a transition that would help graduates to obtain jobs that require higher-order thinking?

It is vital to understand the subtle, grey dimension of youth unemployment in this country that reflects reality. While the MIDF report has scraped the surface, issues related to youth unemployment are complex and reflects our industrial culture, which requires a major shift in thinking. Hopefully, the Ministry of Human Resources will address this issue in more depth and come up with solutions to address our reality.

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