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Unemployment issue goes beyond lack of experience

November 13, 2017

Writer says Malaysians must look at fundamental issues such as the imbalance between supply and demand, and the mushrooming of universities in the country.

COMMENT

Unemployment-1

By TK Chua

I refer to the news item, “Economist: Poor English, lack of experience costing grads jobs”. On the surface, it would appear that the views expressed are logical. We always attribute high youth and graduate unemployment to lack of experience and poor English proficiency.

However, if we care to examine a little deeper, the problems are not as simple as we think.

Unemployment is always a supply and demand issue. When the economy is not able to absorb manpower fast enough, we have demand problems. When population growth and “graduate production” are faster than economic/employment growth, we create over-supply problems.

I think these are the fundamental issues that we must look at. English proficiency and experience are just the icing on the cake. They provide advantages to some jobseekers, but they can’t solve the demand and supply situation in the country.

If we set up universities like mushrooms, we create unrealistic expectations among many graduates. University degrees, whatever they are worth, have now made them unemployable. They can’t do “non-graduate jobs” anymore, although these are readily available. Instead, the unfettered entry of foreign workers is used to fill up the void.

Because foreign workers are readily available, the “production function” of the country has remained 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) to most Malaysian workers. Employers have no incentive to upgrade and improve the work process. Instead, they just need to blame Malaysian workers for being choosy or lazy.

Talking about the lack of experience among Malaysian workers and graduates, may I know whether foreign workers who have just landed in Malaysia had any work experience prior to their arrival? They don’t even speak Malay, Chinese or English, nor have they any experience living in this country! Yet they are put on the job without any fuss.

We need to think deeper and wider regarding the problem of youth and graduate unemployment. Is the Malaysian economy transforming quickly enough to absorb so many graduates? Did we set up too many universities? Do foreign workers stifle our production function, resulting in many jobs being trapped in the low-pay category and remaining dirty, dangerous and demeaning?

Structural problems require comprehensive solutions, not Band-Aid solutions. Providing internships to undergraduates or enhancing English proficiency among graduates will not fundamentally solve youth and graduate unemployment.

When the economy is not creating jobs, even the best graduates will not be able to get jobs. When we produce too many graduates but leave the production function of the country unchanged, there will be unmatched expectations and unfilled vacancies.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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