Graduates must hone their soft skills if they want jobs

Malaysia’s soaring graduate unemployment rate, recorded at 10.8% last year is most likely due to the mismatch of skills, according to a report issued by MIDF Research.

Every year, over 200,000 students graduate from institutions of higher learning. These graduates make up 40.5% of those who are unemployed in the country. The majority of unemployed graduates are those from public universities. As the number of graduates continues to rise each year, they face tough competition in the job market. High-skill job vacancies suited for fresh graduates unfortunately only account for 4.1% of job vacancies.

Graduates may be equipped with the right knowledge related to their field of study – the hard skills – but soft skills are often overlooked. Some are not cognisant of the fact that when they are fortified with soft skills, this can help them increase their chances of employability.

Thousands of graduates seek jobs in the private sector annually. Many do not succeed, partly due to their lack of soft skills. They lack language and communication skills. Many have command of only one language when companies prefer graduates who are able to speak foreign languages.

Getting a job in the private sector is very competitive

Since getting a job in the private sector is very competitive, proficiency in one or two foreign languages would greatly help graduates during job interviews. Graduates cannot be contented with only the hard skills they acquired during their student days. It is while at school or university that they should have acquired the rudiments of these soft skills. Students who fail to enhance these skills before they graduate or seek jobs will find it too late to acquire them after graduation.

Graduates who can speak well in a foreign language during job interviews are more likely to impress their prospective employers. Employers are likely to be more convinced if these jobseekers possess interpersonal skills and can communicate convincingly.

In some cases, even graduates with outstanding paper qualifications who apply for jobs are rejected simply because they are ill-equipped with soft skills. Employers would rather go for non-graduates who have an aptitude for communication and human relations.

More than half of graduates in the country (51.5%) studied liberal arts compared to 17.6% who studied a branch of science. Many of our unemployed graduates are those from the liberal arts. In most developed countries, the situation is the same: liberal arts graduates far outnumber those from scientific fields. Even when employed, their salaries may not commensurate with their qualifications.

A large supply sometimes means that entry-level salaries for liberal arts graduates fall far below those offered to their science-focused colleagues. However, with superior skills in writing, communication and interpersonal relations, graduates could climb up the ladder of success as a degree in liberal arts hardly ever limits a graduate to just one career path.

While some majors – medicine or engineering, for example – provide expert training in a specific field, liberal arts degrees tend to provide a much broader educational background and skills applicable to almost any job. Furthermore, soft skills are getting more valuable these days as businesses expand and people interact more.

Nonetheless, there are also graduates in the sciences who find it tough to get employed these days. This could be because the supply of graduates has exceeded the demand and there are fewer job opportunities available in the market.

Soft skills and the right attitude crucial in almost any career

Employers in the private sector have a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to recruiting workers, and graduates cannot blame them for their stringent requirements. Businesses need to generate income and be productive in order to survive, and they have no choice but to choose only capable graduates to be in their team of workers.

Often, they do not only look at a graduate’s academic qualifications. They want graduates with soft skills and the right attitude, both of which are crucial in almost any career that deals with businesses and human relations.

Besides the hard skills graduates acquire while studying, prospective employers dealing with international businesses expect candidates to be proficient in foreign languages. To these establishments, competency in a foreign language is a requisite.

With a lack of adequate soft skills, graduates will without a doubt find it hard to communicate and convince employers during job interviews. Graduates who are competent in more than one language are usually sought after. In the business world, being able to speak a foreign language has always been a plus point.

Even developed countries doing business with other countries find it an asset to have employees who are proficient in foreign languages. Foreigners doing business with China, for instance, would find it to their advantage if their employees can speak Mandarin in their negotiations with local associates.

As such, being able to communicate in English would be an asset if developing countries are doing business with developed countries where the language is widely used. There are numerous Malaysia-based companies doing business in foreign countries, and most negotiations are in English.

Businesses do not want to spend time and money on training

Prospective employers look at many areas related to soft skills in their workforce. Their employees should be able to speak convincingly to clients, negotiate to win business opportunities, communicate objectively to resolve differences in opinions, speak persuasively over the phone, converse with proper etiquette or manners and adjust to formal and informal situations when interacting with prospective clienteles.

They expect their employees to be able to draft and write proper letters to clients, write short reports on business dealings and events, understand and report what others have discussed, understand and clarify information, letters and reports received, present facts in a clear and plain manner to prospective patrons and conduct meetings in a brief and effectual way.

The private sector needs a workforce that can cope with the demand of the present globalised commercial world where soft skills are crucial in bringing them more business opportunities. In fact, graduates should boost their interpersonal, communication and leadership skills long before they leave their intellectual ivory towers.

The workforce in the private sector usually works cohesively within and outside their establishment. Being able to interconnect and communicate cogently and instructively will always be an asset to the organisation. Graduates have to accept the reality that most businesses will not want to spend much time and money on training to improve their employees’ shortfalls in their soft skills.

For that reason, the soft skills employers look out for during job interviews are valued even more highly on the job, partly because this can save them a lot of money in the long run. The onus therefore lies on the education system in the country to help prepare graduates for the job market to ensure their employability.

Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.

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