Initiative to prepare Malaysian fresh graduates for the real world
By AWATIF GHAPAR and HARRY CHEW
Change is never easy, and for undergraduates going into the working world for the first time, it is often a challenging transition.
The hard truth about working life: the assignment of tasks at the workplace is not the same as academic assignments, where you work in your own “world,” put forth your best effort and wait for it to be graded.
In working life, completion of tasks is not like a race to the finish line, but more like an episode of Crime Scene Investigation, where you are the lead investigator looking to solve a mystery.
When outcomes are unknown or yet to be defined, other skills—like talking to others, reading widely, being proactive and curious—matter in determining a good work output at the workplace.
While doing all these, frequent self-initiated updates and consultation with your supervisor matter just as much. Because the working world is so dynamic, in some industries, priorities can change overnight and of course, this will influence the outcome of the deliverables.
The transition is to cultivate the ability to think in more fluid terms and to have the right mindset when you’re assigned work or targets. Mind you, this is not an easy feat. Most people who are now a few years into the working world still see this as a challenge.
So why does it take so long to fall into the rhythm of working life?
There are many factors and just as there are many reasons for this, it ultimately boils down to managing expectations on both sides of the fence and taking relevant steps to address the gaps.
Reality of employability among Malaysian fresh graduates
The scenario of a typical graduate hiring is not encouraging. In fact, the script is fairly standard and may sound something like this:
Interviewer: I see that you have a degree and were active in co-curricular activities?
Fresh graduate: Yes, and I am eager to work in your organisation.
Interviewer: Tell me about your relevant experience(s).
Fresh graduate: (panics and inflates past experience at university to sound impressive)
Interviewer: Thanks. We will get back to you.
According to The Coverage Bureau, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said that out of the 400,000 unemployed individuals in the country, 161,000 are young graduates aged between 20 and 24 years old. This figure equates to 8.8% of the Malaysian youths.
In addition to this, 88% of young workers are earning less than RM1,500 per month, which is classified as living in poverty in Selangor.
The sad truth is that a university degree no longer guarantees you a job.
Several news reports have highlighted what employers believed to be some of the main reasons for unemployment: poor attitude, poor command of English and poor communication skills (which include lack of courage to speak up and to voice out opinions).
A Jobstreet survey revealed that employers also felt that graduates lacked soft skills like adaptability, multitasking, decision-making and problem-solving.
Several members of the Bursa Young Investors Club raised an issue during a recent Invest Malaysia 2015 conference: “Though Malaysian students are equipped with knowledge, they’re clueless when it comes to applying it in the real world.”
This goes to show that even though universities are top-class when it comes to knowledge transfer, this does not guarantee that their graduates are well-equipped with the relevant soft skills.
It’s clear that since the starting line for workplace readiness is not the same as the point where graduates leave universities, there needs to be an overriding mechanism to step in and help provide the right exposure and experience for those who have been side-lined.
So, the next question we should ask is: are we, as a nation, doing enough to address this readiness gap?
Silver lining in SL1M
On June 1, 2011, a scheme called Skim Latihan 1Malaysia (SL1M) was launched with the purpose of providing fresh graduates, who are unable to secure employment upon graduation, with the chance to have industrial experience up to one year.
This scheme, which aims to enhance graduates’ employability, offers industrial/corporate experience and structured training with participating companies.
For 2016, the scheme is targeted to help up to 15,000 unemployed graduates.
The programme is structured into three main components, namely soft-skills training, on-the-job training and job exposure.
More than 70,000 participants have benefited from the scheme which has been running for six years now. The scheme is expected to be completed by 2020.
This scheme is run by a small team of dedicated individuals headed by lawyer turned banker turned champion of workplace readiness capabilities, Norashikin Ismail of the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department.
Norashikin says that she was inspired to champion this scheme as she could see the benefits. According to her, fresh graduates are immersed into organisations and at the end of it there are improvements in terms of awareness level of business acumen, language proficiency and interpersonal skills.
She said it is not guaranteed that the participating companies will retain the participants, but the exposure and opportunity will serve as a platform for the participants to gain insights that was previously not possible.
Norashikin’s involvement in helping undergraduates as a Bank Negara Malaysia corporate social responsibility initiative began in 2009.
Today, she has a much larger platform but her belief that all stakeholders must come together to help, has not waivered.
She advises fresh graduates to not be complacent as they have very challenging times ahead of us.
She suggested for fresh graduates to take the opportunity to learn and grow, especially since it takes them out of their comfort zone.
The future workforce
Norashikin added that due to the slow economic growth, it is best for companies to leverage on SL1M participants on the demands of the labour, besides giving back to the nation’s building by training the employees of tomorrow.
There are benefits for participating organisations, in terms of tax deductions and Human Resources Development Fund claims.
As part of the larger business community, each of us play a part to help ensure the workplace readiness of the next generation. While it’s clear there are many types of exposure required, the key to driving mindset shifts is by providing tangible learning experiences that offer “ah-ha” moments.
Corporations, big or small, should step up and contribute towards enhancing graduate employability to ensure sustainability in human capital quality in the future.