ADUN SPEAKS | The chief of the Employment Insurance System at the Social Security Organisation (Socso), Mohd Sahar Darusman wrote an interesting article in the Sunday Star on Sept 27, titled “Graduate mismatch in the labour market”.
It is a long article, in which he explained graduate unemployment, or under-employment, in the private sector.
Sahar said that there is a glaring mismatch of graduates in the job market, in other words, more and more graduates are taking on jobs meant for non-graduates. Thus, if this mismatch is not addressed, he thinks that it might have serious implications for the development of human resources in the country.
Given the increase in the number of public and private universities in the last 20 years, graduates entering the labour market are on the increase.
Between 2001-2016, graduate employment expanded at 7.2 percent. However, this increase was more marked in non-graduate employment, rather than those in graduate employment.
This article is based on the underlying assumption that graduates are better skilled and qualified than those who are not.
The problem is not so much with the graduates, but the inability of the private sector to respond to their employment needs. What is more, the private sector does a disservice by employing graduates in the non-graduate category.
I am not sure that those without university degrees and those having just certificates and diplomas can be judged to have lower skills than university graduates with degrees.
Sahar’s underlining assumption is that university graduates are more skilled and talented in comparison with those without tertiary qualifications.
Yes, from a quantitative perspective, given the number of public and private universities in the country, it is only natural that more and more graduates will be entering the job market.
Lack of jobs might be there, forcing them to accept low-paying ones once reserved for those without any tertiary qualifications.
Sahar has come out with some impressive statistics on the job market but fails to understand why, despite the large number of graduates being added to the labour market, their employability remains unimpressive.
This requires me to touch upon those aspects as to the quality of graduates we produce and to what extent they are suited to the needs of the industry.
Sahar assumes that those graduating from universities are qualified, skilled and readily marketed in the private sector in comparison with non-graduates. Is this true?
Although there are different categories of graduates, not all of them have superior skills. Many of these graduates entering the job market, apart from their tertiary credentials, might not have the relevant skills required to offer to prospective employers.
In many instances, employers prefer to take in workers with certificate or diploma qualifications so that they could be paid less, compared to graduates.
The country might be churning out more and more graduates every year, but have these graduates increased the skill level of the human resource in the country?
Sadly, the national average of the country’s skill level hovers around 30 to 32 percent. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to speak about the mismatch between graduates and their skill levels.
We might have poured a huge amount of resources in the country’s education system to create and sustain a viable and highly-skilled labour force. But I am not sure whether we have taken into account the needs of the industry, the need to create a skilled and competitive labour force.
We did not have the foresight to cultivate and nurture the strong links between universities and the needs of the industry. This mismatch is more apparent now than before, especially when there is an imperative to move away from labour-intensive to a more capital-intensive production based on information technology.
The other historical education fallacy was the habit of streaming good students to pursue tertiary education in universities and those academically not-qualified to pursue certificate and diploma programmes in technical institutes or polytechnics.
Things might have improved now, with the entry of better-qualified students, but the damage was done earlier. There must be a policy imperative to address and resolve this bifurcation of mechanical separation of students.
It is not about our graduates not getting the right kind of jobs, but rather, whether our universities are producing graduates with competitive skills and talents to match the needs of the industry.
In recent years, some universities have started collaborating with industries in terms of equipping their graduates with the right kind of skills and talents so that they would be gainfully employed and rewarded.
There are more than 20 public universities in the country that are producing thousands of graduates to enter the private sector. A small portion might enter the already bloated and inefficient civil service, but the bulk has to be absorbed by the private sector.
For the graduates to obtain the right kind of jobs, they will need to have the right kind of skills and talents. Unfortunately, the government is not in a position to dictate to employers in the private sector as to who they can employ and who they cannot.
In conclusion, rather than simply comparing graduates with non-graduates for not getting the right jobs, I would advise Sahar, as the head of an important state agency, to look into the quality of graduates that we produce from the numerous universities every year and why they are not fitting into the job market as expected.
Is it because there are few jobs, or is it because our graduates don’t have the talents and expertise needed to join the competitive world of industry?
Or is it because the skills and talents of graduates and non-graduates have been narrowed over the years?
P RAMASAMY is the state assemblyperson for Perai. He is also deputy chief minister (II) of Penang.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.