Unemployed graduates have become a cause of concern in Malaysia. The findings of a Graduate Tracer Study in 2006 involving 132 900 graduates from institutions of higher learning all over Malaysia indicated that 30.7% of graduates remained unemployed six months after graduation, while 5.7% were still awaiting job placement (Tan, 2007). The Minister of Human Resources revealed that more female graduates in this country were unemployed because they lacked the relevant skills required in the labor market despite having excellent academic results. The number was much higher in comparison to male graduates (Nor Hartini, 2007). As there are so many unemployed graduates at present, we need to find out why this problem exists and what can be done to overcome it.
One reason for this problem is that the focus of higher education institutions and the needs of the labor market for graduates are not as compatible as they were twenty years ago. The labor market is now more competitive and volatile. As a result, graduates, face difficulties in getting jobs because they are not ready for the industry (Tan, 2007). For instance, the knowledge of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) acquired by students does not quite meet the expectations of the industry.
Lack of experience and skills are also causes of graduate unemployment. Generally, most organizations prefer to employ graduates with experience. Furthermore, in Malaysia, the private sector today is not interested in recruiting local graduates because they lack essential skills, such as proficiency in English and interpersonal skills (Nor Hartini, 2007). There appears to be a disparity between what employers require and what skills graduates have.
In view of this, the government has implemented several measures to reduce the problem of graduate unemployment. One such measure is the introduction of several training programmes for fresh graduates. For instance, the Ministry of Human Resources, through their training agencies, has introduced the ‘Unemployed Graduates Training Scheme’ in order to equip graduates with certain skills and experience (Chapman, Chew & Tan, 2007). The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, likewise, has initiated a programme where established retailers have started recruiting graduates and diploma holders as management trainees. This scheme aims to not only provide employment opportunities for fresh graduates but also to expose them to fields in the private sector other than the ones they specialized in (Chin, 2007).
Another measure involves a review of the tertiary education system. Soft skill development should be incorporated into the education curriculum where students can participate in extra curricular activities to enhance soft skills such as personal qualities, interpersonal skills and critical and creative thinking (Nor Hartini, 2007). These soft skills should be acquired through participation in extra curricular activities while they are studying for their degrees. A lecturer, for instance, can develop students’ skills and knowledge by stimulating their minds with discussions and case studies. According to Nor Hartini, these skills will enable them to communicate effectively, manage relationships, lead a team, solve problems and succeed in the job market.
Thus, it is evident that lack of skills and experience are the main causes for graduate unemployment. To overcome this problem, the Ministry of Higher Education must ensure that the tertiary education system is relevant and up-to-date. It should continually evaluate the tertiary programs to help produce quality graduates who meet the needs of industries. Also, industries need to play their part by providing more opportunities for training fresh graduates while the graduates themselves need to be more open and take up these offers.