Monday, 13 November 2017
MOVE UP THE VALUE CHAIN AND BE LESS EMPLOYABLE
In all my years of writing about the computing and information technology services industry, I have heard no end about Malaysian workers having to 'reskill themselves and move up the value chain' to remain relevant (i.e. employable) in the knowledge-based information and services economy - a 'sunrise' industry, as 'sunset' industries such as manufacturing and assembly leave Malaysia's shores to our neighbouring lower wage countries, bringing along with them a sun rise.
So more students have gone to the burgeoning number of public and private universities, including many which I dub as graduate factories, in order to get that much coveted degree, so as to 'move up the value chain'.
However, the interesting thing about this Free Malaysia Today article about what the Chief Economist at Malaysian Rating Corp said about employers' actual requirements of graduates they are looking for is proficiency in the English language, rather than straight As only.
Also: "It said in terms of employability, those with tertiary education made up the highest percentage of unemployed youths at 15.3%"
So it looks like the higher up the value chain one goes, the more unemployable one becomes in the much touted knowledge-based, information and services economy, well at least within Malaysia.
I landed my first job as a Process Engineer with the now defunct National Semiconductor integrated circuit assembly plant in Senawang, Negeri Sembilan in March 1980 or about 37 years ago and within three months of my return to Malaysia from the U.K. with an electronics engineering degree.
Most of the line supervisors and technicians had a Higher School Certificate (A Levels or "STPM" in Malay), whilst most of the production operators, most of whom were young women, had a Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) which is equivalent to O Levels and some even had Lower Certificate of Education (SRP).
Many of the production operators were not very proficient in English but that did not matter, since we all could communicate with them in Malay and we all got the work done.
On the 7th of November 2017, I covered the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's In Style Hong Kong symposium and exposition in Kuala Lumpur and had a bit of a hard time understanding the Hong Kong and China English spoken by the speakers at the event, many of whom are architects, advertising professionals, public relations professionals, engineers, computer scientists, entrepreneurs, corporate chiefs, top civil servants and so forth, which raises questions as to whether the ability to speak the Queen's English is all that important to one's employability and success in business.
Like one of the speakers from LAAB Architects in Hong Kong had the imagination, creativity and ability to think outside the box to optimise the space in a 309 sq ft (28.7 sq metres) but their English isn't all that great.
Another speaker, a storyteller who also is a creative lead at Sun Mobile Communications Ltd spoke about transmedia and how they created an animated video with a catchy tune which was posted on You Tube and other platforms to remind viewers about the deadly dangers they should avoid. This project was commissioned by a metro train operator in Australia which wanted to cut down on train accidents and it worked.
These professionals have bachelors or masters degrees, though their English was not all that great but understandable enough for me to write an article about the event.
So why is being proficient in English such a big deal amongst Malaysian employers, unless the jobs available are relatively low-skilled information and services jobs.
Or are we churning out too many degree holders that a bachelors degree today is worth an SPM (Senior Cambridge, O Levels, MCE) back in the 1970s, a masters degree today is worth an STPM (A Levels, HSC, high school diploma) back then and a PhD today is worth a bachelors degree back then.
Heck! In their desperation, even engineering degree holders have taken up jobs for which they are way over qualified for, though one has to admire their willingness to do so until they can find work more suited to their qualifications.
"As unemployment grows, so does the number of qualified people who are resorting to doing any job that pays."
"One such person is Siti Nursyazalina Zailani, who graduated as a materials engineer but now works as a domestic cleaner."
Engineering graduates like Siti Nursyazalina would have easily got a job at executive level in one of the semiconductor plants back in the 1980s.
I guess there are not that many jobs for engineers today, as we move towards becoming a 'high-income, knowledge-based, information and services economy'.
Or should fresh graduates go further and pursue an MBA (Masters of Nothing Better) in order to be employable.
The problem is that there are not all that many jobs higher up the value chain.
Also, the sun rises where 'sunset' industries move into, whilst the sun sets where 'sunset' industries move away from, leaving more and more 'sunrise' industries behind.
Anyway, the sun never sets on planet earth.Whilst the sun is setting somewhere on earth, it is rising somewhere else.
Free Malaysia Today article referred to follows.
Chief economist at Malaysian Rating Corp Nor Zahidi Alias says employers are not looking for graduates with straight As only.
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 graduates 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.