Steady progress should be a grad’s watchword

GRADUATE unemployment is an old issue that never seems to die down. Aren't university degrees a stepping stone to good paying jobs or is there more to the equation than just degrees and credentials?

Some 23% of jobless youth happened to be graduates as at 2015, according to Bank Negara Malaysia's annual report.

The issue was raised at a Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) media briefing in April. It was revealed that there had been over a million enrolments in public and private universities over the last two decades, of which only about 80,000 were foreign students.

Having spoken to academics on the issue, I noticed the common thread was that graduates seem to lack in soft skills sought by employers. This was supported by survey findings from recruitment agencies.

Our culture for a long while has emphasised good grades. Scoring A's is so important and even more importance is placed on being book smart. Less if no importance is placed on other areas.

When I was in school, before 2010, much of the syllabus required memorisation over understanding and application. Often, students were regurgitating word for word on the answer sheet.

Things started to shift to a more practical approach whereby there was a greater requirement for interpersonal skills through teamwork, communication and leadership skills, and others over answering exam questions. (Nevertheless, I can't speak for all courses offered at tertiary level, as this may just be the nature of a mass communication course.)

This to an extent is beneficial, but I believe internships are an entirely different ball game, as it is an opportunity for graduates to get real experience on the dynamics of their prospective career path. And the exposure that one gets from such programmes is invaluable in enhancing one's skills.

Though internships are not mandatory in all universities, students should find an opportunity to get into such programmes as it enables them to get a feel of the work environment and a hands-on approach of the job.

This in the end boils down to how the opportunity is used by the student. It is a matter of either taking it as a learning curve or just going through the process for the sake of passing. Nonetheless, the experience gained will be valuable and extremely helpful.

According to reports, fresh graduates make unrealistic demands especially over salaries.

In view of the rising cost of living, a higher salary is a necessity but these demands appear to be way more than justified.

It is important for fresh graduates to be mindful that success and comfort don't come easy, and it is natural to start with a lower salary and earn increments and move up through the ranks.

On another note, a senior academic once posed a question on mediocrity taking precedence over meritocracy. This question needs to be addressed by the relevant stakeholders.

Going back to the discussion at the MIER briefing, its chairman Tan Sri Sulaiman Mahbob said that there is a need for highly skilled jobs as the skill-intensive manufacturing sector contributes to 30% of our gross domestic product.

With that big contribution coming from the skill-intensive sector, wouldn't it be beneficial to look at learning skills training instead of just obtaining a degree.

Malaysia is also facing a shortage of skilled workers. Perhaps, having more skilled workers would ease the reliance on foreign workers and contribute to our economy.

With more and more people having degrees these days, what makes a graduate stand out and what are employers really looking for?

Ragananthini reports on business with theSun. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com