Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are Malaysian graduates doomed to mediocrity?

Are Malaysian graduates doomed to mediocrity?

November 04, 2012
Malaysian Insider
 
Malaysian children participate in the ‘Read2008 : One Nation Reading Together’ at a school in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur in this file picture. — Reuters pic
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 4 — Almost everyone complains about them: wanting high pay but not willing to put in the hours. Hankering for instant fame but with little substance to show. Becoming famous for very little talent. Demanding for work-life balance just so they can party after 5pm, or be with their boy/girlfriend. And some bring their parents into the picture; parents call up would be employers to demand why their child’s demands are not being met. None of them want to work in the trenches — life is too short to work hard. So now Putrajaya has stepped in with funds to make the unemployable, well, employable.

Notwithstanding that, some blame the current economic climate for their jobless state. They aren’t shy about voicing their frustrations, and it must be serious, as the Government has taken steps to provide skills and training, and a website (http://www.mygemsportal.com.my/), so young graduates become employable. The Prime Minister launched the 1 Malaysia Training Scheme (SL1M) sometime in June 2011. The government schemes help young graduates gain soft skills and internships with government linked companies. There are three components to the scheme. The first part, costing up to RM200 million, will be put to conduct part-time training in the evenings and weekends at selected training centres.

The second is another allocation of RM200 million for companies to provide training for their employees. The fund will come from the Human Resource Development Fund. The third scheme will see the Human Resource Ministry spend RM100 million to enable employees skills in various technical skills.

A Bernama report in June (year not stated) reported that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nor Mohamed Yakcop said “… jobless graduates who had undergone SL1M had obtained employment. “We are aggressive in this respect to help the 8,000 graduates who have gone through SL1M,” he said.’”

The Star also reported positive findings. A TNB report proved likewise. It would seem that this initiative is to be lauded after all.

What employers think 

There have been criticisms on the initiative, but many forget that companies, multinationals and even governments in other countries invest heavily in training and their human resources. Youth unemployment is also a major concern in countries like the United Kingdom. So why are Malaysian employers and professionals cynical about the scheme and quality of graduates?

Surely it cannot be because it is fashionable to detest everything that is government-linked and look at graduates with disdain?

A senior Bumi legal practitioner who declined to be named, echoes the many concerns of employers. “I discern a trend whereby the local graduates are hesitant to speak in the English language, and even if they do, they could be incomprehensible. English is the lingua franca in Malaysia for commercial transactions. I see this as a result of too much attention being paid to the Malay language in the primary/secondary schools. “

“Secondly, local graduates are so used to being spoon fed that they find it difficult to do a bit of independent/creative thinking. For example, many newly minted trainee lawyers want us (their seniors) to guide them every step of the way while doing their legal research. This is because they are not trained to do proper research in universities — everything is given to them by their lecturers. In a commercial organisation, which a law firm is, the lack of these basic (communication and research) skills will work against the trainees because at the end of the day, we will only retain those that are perceived as able to provide some value to the firm. I blame all these shortcomings on our education system up to university level because since the foundation is not up to universally acceptable standards, regardless of the thousands of so called high achievers at SPM and any other examination levels, the structure, i.e. the student will never be a strong/complete individual.”

A round of interviews conducted via email and telephone calls revealed the same response.
This begs the question: will SL1M provide the solutions to the needs and demands of employers? Apart from reports mentioned above that many job placements have been found for the graduates, are they skilled and provide value to employers?

And, another thought to ponder. In light of young graduate pilots unable to find work upon graduation , is Malaysia creating a hole of qualified professionals who cannot find work, simply because the market is saturated?  What good are these schemes if there are no jobs anyway?

In February 2012, The Guardian published an opinion essay on how apprenticeships have failed Britain’s youth.

“The last government devalued the word, but this government trashed it when it took Labour’s Train to Gain scheme for older employees, cut the funds and rebadged it as “apprenticeships”. That created an instant 257% increase in “apprenticeships” as short courses for over-25s, most already working at Asda, Morrisons or McDonald’s. Worthwhile maybe, but not “apprenticeships”, wasting scarce state funds on company training.” “…  in the last year “apprenticeships” for the over- 60s rose by 878%. Cuts in the training/apprenticeship budget are disguised by plentiful announcements of little pots of money for small new schemes: Cameron did it again this week with £6m for high-quality apprenticeships. The worst scandal is that so many “apprenticeships” are 12-week courses from private training companies, with no jobs at the end. That revelation forced the government to promise all future apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds must last a year – but not for 19 to 24 year-olds.” Britain outsources apprenticeships. “Elsewhere they are a bond between employers and trainees,” said Polly Toynbee, the author of the op-ed.

Does this sound similar? Perhaps, if we do not watch out, we will end up like Britain. While the Malaysian scenario may be vastly different from Britain, if not managed well, may end up as a “A culture that pays so many people so little for essential work will never improve opportunities for those it undervalues from birth.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for apprenticeships. “In stark contrast, Germany’s youth employment is the highest in Europe, with only a 7.8 percent jobless rate. At the heart of that success is a learn-on-the-job apprenticeship system that has its roots in the Middle Ages but is thriving today in Germany’s modern, export-oriented economy,” NPR reported on Germany’s low youth unemployment rate.

It continued, “Germany’s dual system trains 1.5 million people annually. Across the board, from bakers and car mechanics to carpenters and violin-makers, about 90 percent of apprentices successfully complete their training, German government figures show. The apprenticeships vary in length, between two and three-and-a-half years. The average training “allowance” is €680 a month (approximately RM2,659), and about half of the apprentices stay on in the company that trained them.”

However, this cooperation can only exist if companies and trade unions work together. Malaysia’s trade unions are almost silent as they are restricted by the Trade Unions Act.

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