Minister Hannah Yeoh vows to tackle entrenched hurdles to youth hiring

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 6 — Youth and Sports (KBS) Minister Hannah Yeoh has pledged to fix long-standing employment issues among the country’s educated youth as part of her vision to streamline the ministry and reduce the bureaucracy that have made policy execution tough.

Yeoh told Malay Mail in an interview at her ministry’s office here recently that she plans to hold extensive dialogues with employers and other stakeholders to understand the problems before identifying solutions.

“What we want now is to understand how times have changed, what do youths want? A lot of the youths you speak to will tell you they don’t want a nine-to-five job,” she said

“I think Covid has accelerated that flexi-work understanding, especially among young working families and those in the gig economy. So that is something that we are going to explore next, to talk to employers and look at ways to reach out to other groups so we can help them with employment.”

Yeoh, a prominent DAP lawmaker representing Segambut only for the second term, clocked into office as the KBS minister less than two months ago.

Her appointment as the KBS minister had caught her by surprise, Yeoh said at the interview, conceding that her inexperience with the portfolio may delay her progress by the amount of time needed to familiarise herself with youth-related problems and sports.

But Yeoh suggested her previous experience as deputy minister of women, family and community development has given her some valuable lessons that can be applied anywhere regardless of the portfolio: that no policy can be drawn in silos.

The DAP leader, 44 this year, said she knew that policy regarding jobs and employment would require the input and support from more than just one ministry, and suggested that data-sharing and simplifying processes around policymaking would be crucial for effective solutions.

Yeoh claimed coalition partners under the “Unity Government” led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim have shown great willingness to collaborate, bucking the entrenched trend under previous Barisan Nasional administrations where politicians were territorial about their respective ministries, causing them to work in silos.

“You cannot work alone. You have to work with other ministries, like MiTI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and the Human Resources Ministry, Education Ministry,” she said.

“And I can say I am very encouraged by the call to cooperate with other ministries under this new government.”

Solving youth hiring and underemployment is important for Yeoh’s coalition government both economically and politically.

The first PH administration, of which Yeoh was a part of as then women, family and community development deputy minister, won on a hard-fought campaign that touted youth-friendly policies with firm pledges to tackle youth unemployment.

Yet the PH government was accused of failing to live up to its promises as youth unemployment and high-paying jobs continue to elude the young.

The latest unemployment rate (November 2022), while markedly lower than the Covid peak of close to 5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, is still mostly made up of youths aged between 15 to 34.

From the 600,000 over people that were jobless in the third quarter of last year, some half a million are from this age bracket.

A prime reason for graduate youth unemployment and underemployment is the mismatch of qualifications with the country’s workforce needs, according to several authoritative studies.

In 2019, out of the 1.47 million vacancies 86.9 per cent are for low skilled jobs while only 4.7 per cent of those advertised required any tertiary qualifications.

Graduate unemployment was 9.6 per cent or 204,000 at the end of 2018.