As odds stack against youth, many use grit and wits to get through difficult Covid times

Keertan Ayamany
·5-min read
Local think-tank Refsa found that over 40 per cent of youth surveyed experienced a 'mild' to 'extremely large' income loss between the months of May and June last year. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Local think-tank Refsa found that over 40 per cent of youth surveyed experienced a 'mild' to 'extremely large' income loss between the months of May and June last year. — Picture by Farhan Najib

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on the nation’s youth, leaving many still highly vulnerable to job and income losses after the movement control order (MCO) and other related measures were introduced to curb its spread last year.

Furthermore, the economic impact of the pandemic is set to be a long-lasting one, with some sources predicting that the Malaysian economy might only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

Faced with this setback, many young Malaysians have changed their attitudes towards work and money, and are trying new ways of ensuring their financial future.

Jack of all trades

Thanush Baran was retrenched from his job in customer service with Grab Malaysia in the middle of last year, just two months after gaining a promotion.

“I then got a job as a content moderator at Shopee but the pay was too low. They were paying me less than RM2,000.

“I left the job and I am still applying for others but I haven’t got a callback,” said the 25-year-old when visited by Malay Mail.

Yet, rather than feeling down on his luck, Thanesh decided to take matters into his own hands, and with the last of his savings, started a small stall selling nasi lemak and mee goreng in Subang.

“I make about RM2,000 a month... I don’t make as much as I did when I was working with Grab, but if I get a job later, I can still carry on with this stall, perhaps by hiring a helper, and it can be a source of side income for me,” he said in a stoic manner.

Adding to his arsenal, Thanush is also attending classes to obtain a degree in digital marketing, and takes on small, low-paying marketing projects to hone his skills.

YouTube tutorials

A music teacher teaches an online piano class during the movement control order (MCO) in Shah Alam January 24, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
A music teacher teaches an online piano class during the movement control order (MCO) in Shah Alam January 24, 2021. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Like Thanush, another young man, who decided to take a stab at entrepreneurship instead of relying on a monthly paycheck, is 20-year-old Wan Muhammad Hazri.

In January, he started a business selling salted egg cornflakes. To master his recipe, Hazri watched a few videos on YouTube that taught him the basics, and from there, he experimented.

The financial engineering student who hails from Shah Alam said he was motivated by the fact that the pandemic may have lasting effects on the economy, and consequently, his financial future.

"An important value that I took on during this pandemic is to take the opportunity to try out something new.

“In my opinion, everyone should have the courage to step out of their comfort zone as a means to securing the necessities in life.

“It’s only after you have taken the first step that you begin to realise what you are capable of,” he said.

Hazri said sales boomed after a mere three weeks of business, providing him with ample capital which he plans to reinvest in his enterprise.

“Honestly, this is something that I see myself doing in the long term,” he added.

Savvy investor

Many young Malaysians have changed their attitudes towards work and money, and are trying new ways of ensuring their financial future. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Many young Malaysians have changed their attitudes towards work and money, and are trying new ways of ensuring their financial future. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

There are others, who still find security in a steady job with a big firm, but have taken a different approach to secure their finances, namely by investing their money early.

Penangite Jocelyn Teh, who works as an auditor, said she felt “beyond blessed” to have a job, but decided she needed a way to build on her income due to a volatile job market.

“I’ve been saving since I started working in 2019, and during the pandemic, I started looking into investments and ventured in mutual funds.

“I started to invest last year, around December. There are losses and gains here and there, but overall it is good,” said the 24-year-old, adding that she was happy with the investment outcomes so far.

Family first

For some, like content writer Arvind M., difficult circumstances have forced him to push back personal goals and scrape through the tough months.

Arvind said he’s had to fork out a portion of his savings and monthly income, to help pay bills after his family’s business went under during the pandemic.

“I have to put off goals like having a relationship or buying a home as I need to take care of my family first.

“Yes, I do want to invest, and save money, but there are immediate needs that must be addressed, and I can only hope that things will get better,” he said.

Nevertheless, 28-year-old Arvind, who lives in Subang, said not all was lost as he was helping the family business get back on its feet.

Though he does not take part in major business operations, he often does the paperwork or thinks of business solutions, which he feels will be of use to him one day should he decide to start an enterprise of his own.

In examining the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Malaysian youth, think-tank Refsa found that over 40 per cent of youth surveyed experienced a “mild” to “extremely large” income loss between the months of May and June last year.

Many students and recent graduates also said they had their internships or job offers postponed or retracted, while an “overwhelming majority” of those applying for jobs were told they lacked work experience.

The survey also noted that many youths, described in the survey as aged between 18 and 35, were the first to be laid off during the pandemic last year.

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