As Covid-19 dims prospects, Malaysian fresh grads shelve dream jobs for any work to pay the bills

·5-min read
Qayyum works the cash register at a local petrol station and delivers parcels everyday for Lalamove just to make ends meet.. — Picture courtesy of Qayyum Gustaf
Qayyum works the cash register at a local petrol station and delivers parcels everyday for Lalamove just to make ends meet.. — Picture courtesy of Qayyum Gustaf

KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 — Like many others who pursued higher education, Qayyum Gustaf believed a university degree would be his ticket to a cushier life, or at the very least, better starting pay when he entered the job market.

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since then, and the international business management graduate has instead found himself working the cash register at a local petrol station while driving his old Perodua MyVi delivering parcels everyday for Lalamove just to make ends meet.

“I graduated in January last year and have applied for countless jobs that align with the course that I took back in the university but the first MCO in March [last year] has definitely put a stop sign to my job searching mission. I became unemployed for the next six months.

“In order to escape from the pressure of being unemployed, I told myself that I cannot be choosy while the country’s facing an economic crisis and decided to work as a cashier at a local petrol station and three months after that, I was promoted to be an assistant supervisor,” the 26-year-old told Malay Mail.

Qayyum is just one of the approximately 300,000 Malaysians who graduated in 2020 and can be considered fortunate to find employment as Covid-19 enveloped the world, devastating economies everywhere.

According to data released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia yesterday, the number of unemployed graduates went up by 22.5 per cent to 202,400 people last year compared to 165,200 jobless graduates in 2019.

Chief Statistician Datuk Seri Mohd Uzir Mahidin noted in his report that more employed graduates were now holding “semi-skilled and low-skilled jobs” that did not match their level of academic qualifications.

But far from complaining, these young adults are demonstrating a resilience to do whatever it takes to earn money for their own bills and independence from their family.

Goh Cheah Eng is another 26-year-old juggling several jobs just to make ends meet.

The sports science degree-holder who was raised by his single mother still lives with her in an old apartment in Kulim, Kedah.

He told Malay Mail that he has worked at countless cafes and other retail businesses since he was 18 years old. Now at 26, he has become a Grab driver to supplement his online business venture, which he candidly said was not doing so well.

Goh’s unsold stockpile of healthcare products. He says the online business venture has not been doing so well. — Picture courtesy of Goh Cheah Eng
Goh’s unsold stockpile of healthcare products. He says the online business venture has not been doing so well. — Picture courtesy of Goh Cheah Eng

He withdrew RM10,000 from his Employee Providence Funds (EPF) account through the government's “iSinar” initiative to open a business account on popular online shopping platform Shopee to sell healthcare products.

“I’m afraid that I can only last around October or November. That’s why I became a part time Grab driver to earn extra income,” he shared with Malay Mail.

Goh said he feels like he is living in limbo now and is wracked with anxiety as he has not given up hope that he will get called for interviews for jobs that he has applied for.

Universiti Teknologi Mara graduate Muhammad Nadzmi Ruzaini opted to move out from his family home in Bangi, Selangor for a low-cost apartment in Cheras that he shares with a friend to lessen the burden on his parents.

The second eldest child says his two younger siblings are still schooling. He counts himself lucky as the Cheras apartment belongs to his grandmother who is currently living with his uncle in Klang.

A mass media and communication degree-holder,

Nadzmi has been called to at least three to four interviews, but has yet to receive a concrete offer. — Picture courtesy of Muhammad Nadzmi Ruzaini
Nadzmi has been called to at least three to four interviews, but has yet to receive a concrete offer. — Picture courtesy of Muhammad Nadzmi Ruzaini

Nadzmi currently works at a fast food restaurant in Kajang as a delivery boy but like Goh, is persevering in hunting for a job that matches his university qualifications.

He told Malay Mail that he has been called to at least three to four interviews, but was not eventually hired. This has caused him sleepless nights as he is now doubting himself.

“I’m currently working as a Pizza Hut delivery boy in Kajang. Despite my busy schedule, I still managed to apply for some jobs, internship placements, and attend virtual interviews.

“The pandemic has changed the hiring policies and the working culture itself. I'm someone who prefers to get physical guidance rather than just based on screens [video conferences],” he said.

Nazmi views himself as “a little bit conservative” and is worried his job prospects may be blunted because he cannot adapt as quickly as some of his peers with companies that have transitioned from an office setting and adopted the work-from-home culture.

Law graduate Nandhini Sivaaragam dreams of joining a practice one day. The 25-year-old is currently freelancing as a graphic designer — it is her other interest — and is holding in the envy of seeing her friends secure jobs within the scope of their study in university.

But Nandhini is quite sanguine about her situation. She considers herself lucky to have parents she can rely on to back her up amid the current economic downturn.

She said that since the pandemic started, the competition for vacancies has become greater as the number of retrenched workers actively hunting for jobs have increased.

“Like I said, it's tough because the competency is higher and most of the vacancies are for experienced candidates.

“The challenge is the same as other fresh grads before the pandemic, but now the chances for us to be employed are much more narrow, so if the fresh grads back then had to try hard until they find a stable job, today we need to do it harder.

“I mean, the government already provided some initiatives to help like Personel MyStep, etc but most of us are still jobless, which means the time is really hard now and those initiatives are still not enough,” she told Malay Mail.

“To be honest, I'm quite fortunate financially, for now. The challenge is actually more mental as we all know we need a stable job to survive rather than some freelance jobs, especially during this time.

“I mean you don’t see a lot of opportunities if I focus on freelance now. And the pressure from family, and the pressure from seeing your friends start to have decent jobs as well,” she added.

* Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained an error which has since been rectified.

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