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Worrying unemployment, underemployment among youths

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Many of our young people have no choice but to end up as a statistic of brain drain or youth unemployment or underemployment, observes Steven Sim.

Mat Rempits rounded up - Photograph: The Star
Mat Rempits rounded up – Photograph: The Star

12 August was International Youth Day. This year, the UN-designated theme is “Youth migration: Moving development forward”, a recognition of the fact that young people form one of largest group of migrants all over the world.

As such, youth, whether migrants or otherwise face, unprecedented challenges in a world where social mobilisation happens at fast speed and large scale. One of the biggest challenges is in the area of jobs.

In Malaysia, young Malaysians are being alienated from the prosperity boasted by the government. While general unemployment is low, about 3-4 per cent, the picture is bleak for youth.

Unemployment for youth is 10.3 per cent, compared to that of neighbouring countries such as Thailand (2.8 per cent), Singapore (6.7 per cent), Japan (8.0 per cent) and South Korea (10.1 per cent). In other words, one in every 10 young persons in Malaysia aged 15-24 is jobless.

According to a recent report by the Finance Ministry, from January to August 2011, a whopping 90.1 per cent or 308,371 persons among job seekers seeking government assistance to look for jobs are young people aged 15-29.

The World Bank reported that one in every ten Malaysians with a tertiary education has migrated to an OECD country to look for better opportunities. This is twice the average rate of brain drain in the world. Something is very wrong.

However the picture is even gloomier when we look at underemployment in our own country. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), “underemployment” refers to a mismatch between career aspiration, skills and expectations of a person to his or her actual job. For example, someone with a university degree but is only able to get a job meant for STPM leavers. Or an engineer forced to accept the job of a salesperson because of the inability to get any jobs in his or her area of training. Or someone having to work for lower pay and in less than desirable work conditions.

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In Malaysia, even by our government’s conservative definition, youth underemployment is high, about 15.1 per cent. However, on further analysis, the problem is much more acute. For example, 21 per cent of degree holders who are employed are working in jobs which do not require a degree. And furthermore, 75,800 graduates are unemployed.

In other words, our young people are forced between being a number in the statistics of brain drain and youth unemployment or underemployment. 

I have previously raised these issues in the last parliamentary sitting, but so far, the government has yet to show any serious commitment in resolving them – as if youth’s problems are trivial compared to other “major” issues facing the country.

An unemployed youth today cannot be better off in ten years’ time. And by then, he or she is expected to play leading roles in society. I have outlined some of the critical measures that the government should take.

Any solutions by the government should be systemic at the policy level to have a more lasting impact, and not merely by organising career fairs (like our Youth Minister is fond of doing).

Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.

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