Economist: Poor English, lack of experience costing grads jobs

PETALING JAYA: Low proficiency in English and lack of exposure to real-world situations are two main factors hindering Malaysian graduates from finding employment, an economist says.
Nor Zahidi Alias, who is chief economist at Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd, said the number of unemployed graduates in the country had risen over the years despite labour market fundamentals remaining respectable.
In a column carried by The Edge, he said part of the issue could be chalked up to the inability of graduates to communicate fluently in English.
“All along the supply chain, proficiency in the language is a highly desirable skill, as attested to by the majority of employers,” he said.
“In fact, in my experience, employers normally take no more than five minutes to judge the communication skills of interviewees before deciding whether or not to employ them. The better they speak, the more attractive they are to potential employers.”
Nor Zahidi regretted that many Malaysian graduates could not adequately express themselves at job interviews, adding that their struggles with language also had a negative impact on their confidence level.
“These clearly present issues for those seeking employment in the services sector, where effective communication is a key skill.”
Similarly, graduates’ lack of real-world experience was a problem as many companies wanted employees who had work experience prior to their graduation, he said.
“Unfortunately, in Malaysia, students do not seem to focus on getting real-world experience. Instead, they concentrate on scoring good grades.
“It is not really graduated with straight As that employers are looking for.”
Nor Zahidi’s comments followed concerns over the rate of youth unemployment in Malaysia, which hit 10.7% in 2015 – more than three times the national unemployment rate of 3.1%.
The numbers, which were revealed in Bank Negara’s 2016 annual report, showed a rise of 1.2% from the previous rate of 9.5%.
In terms of employability, those with tertiary education made up the highest percentage of unemployed youths at 15.3%.
About 16% of youths aged 15 to 24 were reported to have tertiary education, while the remaining 84% had secondary schooling.
A labour force survey by the government meanwhile showed that job growth had slowed while unemployment had risen.
In 2016, it said, the unemployment rate was 3.4%, a 0.3% increase from 3.1% in 2015. In 2014, the unemployment rate was only 2.9%.
Although there was a decrease in the number of unemployed youths, those aged 20 to 29 still made up more than half of those unemployed last year, at 60.4% compared to 62.5% in 2015.
Bank Negara had attributed the rise in youth unemployment to a lack of experience, higher information asymmetry in the labour market and poor communication skills.
It said in terms of employability, those with tertiary education made up the highest percentage of unemployed youths at 15.3%.
Nor Zahidi said things had changed over the years, with education institutions putting more emphasis on involvement in extra-curricular activities when it came to college or university applications.
Internship programmes also allowed university students to gain valuable real-world experience, he added.
However, he warned that there were no shortcuts to solving these problems.
Although internship programmes helped, he said it was not easy for students to find placements.
“Not many Malaysian companies like to take on undergraduates for two or three months.
“Even if they do, they usually do not have structured training programmes in place for interns. As a result, only the cream of the crop and those with good connections are selected by business organisations for internship,” he said.
He added that the government’s efforts to improve the language skills of English teachers was a good start, but that more must be done to upgrade graduates’ level of English proficiency.
“Encouraging students to watch appropriate English programmes on television could help as well,” he said.
He also suggested that a central body be established to help university students find placements in internship programmes at relevant organisations.
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