Tackle grey areas of youth unemployment

Issues related to youth unemployment are complex and reflects our industrial culture, which requires a major shift in thinking, writes Ronald Benjamin.

Youth unemployment has been a concern for some time now.

Last year saw record 10.8% unemployment among youth, according to an Malaysian Industrial Development Fund report (Edge Financial Daily, 4 May 2018).

According to the report, the rising youth unemployment rate was mainly contributed by the soaring numbers of unemployed graduates, about 204,000 constituting 40.5% of total unemployment.

While low-skilled job vacancies made up 86.3% of job vacancies in 2017, high-skilled job vacancies more suited for fresh graduates, such as professionals and technicians and associate professionals, accounted for a meagre 4.1% of job vacancies. According to the MIDF, youth unemployment could be due to a mismatch of skills.

In this context, I welcome the Jobs Malaysia portal 2.0, officiated by M Kula Segaran, the Minister of Human Resources, which provides 162,000 job opportunities in nine categories, for job seekers.

While such a portal would help match jobs, certain underlying grey factors in youth unemployment should be taken into consideration by the Ministry of Human Resources.

Starting from the bottom

Looking at the MIDF report, it seems there are more vacancies for low-skilled jobs. The fact is employers always encourage fresh graduates who have an academic background to start from below to understand the underlying nature of a particular profession before moving up the hierarchy.

For example, hotel management graduates have to go through a process of starting at the bottom of the hierarchy as a guest service assistant before moving up the ladder in the front office. Their degrees become valuable only after two years of concrete ground experience. Many graduates are not willing to get their hands dirty at the starting level or to be paid a lower salary.

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Graduates need more experience

It is unreasonable to assume that graduates are professionals when they have to learn skills that come with constant practice and experience over time. This complements the particular course they have taken.

For example, a month ago I attended a job fair at Ipoh Polytechnic. I was there to recruit skilled technicians as interns for the maintenance department of the hotel where I worked. Many of them came from electronics, electrical and mechanical engineering backgrounds. None of them had experience in hands-on skills such as wiring, plumbing, and carpentry, which was in demand at the hotel I worked. Only four of them were recruited as interns; they took up a course in servicing air-conditioners, which was relevant to the hotel.

This clearly reveals not just a mismatch of skills but also the type of limited courses offered in hands on-skills or the lack of students in these institutions who would prefer hands-jobs such as carpentry, wiring, plumbing and servicing air-conditioners.

Preference for diploma-holders

Employers especially in the service industry tend to prefer taking in diploma-holders rather than graduates due to salary constraints. The thinking is that those with degrees will not stay along due to the lower salary being offered. This puts graduates in a difficult position to obtain jobs as they have to compete with diploma-holders.

Ethnic prejudice

Malaysia today is still caught up with ethnic prejudices when it comes to work ethics which is use to stereotype the entire community. Certain positions in the private sector such as accounting, graphic designing and purchasing are dominated by certain ethnic groups. These jobs are relatively well paying, and communities from the majority and other minority communities are deprived of these opportunities.

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Some ethnocentric employers think that other ethnic groups are not good in numbers, not hardworking, possible troublemakers. Such employers would only trust their own ethnic group with the management of money. The setting up of an equal opportunities commission to address such discrimination in hiring is vital in tacking youth unemployment.

Inadequate internship duration

Aspiring graduates today need to go through an internship for three to six months. This duration is inadequate when substantial experience is needed to perform in certain jobs. Graduates have to compete with seniors who have a couple of years’ experience. Unemployment results in such a context. Corporations and universities should agree on a reasonable internship duration for certain jobs that require longer experience.

Too many low-skilled jobs?

If there are a significant number of vacancies for low-skilled jobs, as reported by the MIDF, why is there high unemployment among youths? Could it be due to the influx of foreign workers? Why are there low-skilled and low-wage jobs when Malaysia is supposed to be moving up towards a higher value chain to become an advanced nation? Why are employers reluctant to make such a transition that would help graduates to obtain jobs that require higher-order thinking?

It is vital to understand the subtle, grey dimension of youth unemployment in this country that reflects reality. While the MIDF report has scraped the surface, issues related to youth unemployment are complex and reflects our industrial culture, which requires a major shift in thinking. Hopefully, the Ministry of Human Resources will address this issue in more depth and come up with solutions to address our reality.

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28 Sep 2018 12.12pm

“NEW YORK: Malaysia’s education system needs to be revised to make English more widely used and to inculcate noble values among children, said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.”


OK! Fine! But a serious review and revamp is required in all areas of Malaysia’s education system, including greater importance given to vocational training and education, instead of just churning out degree holders.

“Up the value chain” also means performing one’s skilled trade, such as wiring more professionally with duty of care, driving a bus or taxi more professionally, even wiring a power bar professionally.

27 Sep 2018 2.38pm

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Check out and download this report – ICT Human Capital Framework 2010 by the National ICT Human Resource Task Force and you will see in Figure 13 on Page 30 (Chapter 4), that of the anticipated 29,957 ICT graduates in 2012, only an anticipated 2,995 would match the anticipated demand for 22,663 ICT graduates that year, due to mismatch of skills.


On Page 31, the report blames this mismatch of skills on the mushrooming of institutes of higher learning offering ICT courses which are not of standardised curriculum and some “ICT” courses are more ICT management courses, instead of hard-core ICT courses.

27 Sep 2018 2.12pm

– / cont’d

Another cousin in Malaysia attended the Technical Training School, then went on to study for an advanced diploma in aeronautical engineering in the U.K. but upon his return was regarded as “overqualified” to work in aircraft maintenance, so got a job as a sales executive of welding equipment with Far East Oxygen, which was merged with Malaysian Oxygen and rose to become a marketing manager, then left to do his own business and passed away from cancer in 2009. He put his children through university in Australia and had a nice apartment in Shah Alam before he passed away.

His close schoolmates also vocationally trained as aircraft mechanics, some on the job and have done very well fr themselves.

27 Sep 2018 2.04pm

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My cousin in Singapore got a Grade 3 in his Senior Cambridge had to do his national service in 1968 and he opted instead to enlist in the SAF for 7 years, during which time he served in the naval arm, where he was vocationally trained in diesel engine maintenance and after his term in the SAF ended, he landed a job with Keppel Shipyard, then as a customer service engineer, installing and maintaining industrial diesel engines with Deutz Far East and then as a marketing man with Wartsila in Singapore where he rose to a marketing manager and then CEO of Evac vacuum wastewater management systems in Singapore.

Now retired, he now has a beautiful, custom architected bungalow with a swimming pool in Singapore.

27 Sep 2018 1.56pm

Good article. However, you should also look into the mushrooming number of private university colleges which churn out graduates. Some are of high standard no doubt but some appear to be graduate factories.

Also, the technical jobs you mentioned, such as wiring, air conditioner servicing and so forth don’t need university graduates in engineering. What they need are vocational trained certificate or diploma holders who were trained according to a more practical curriculum.

My friend’s nephew underwent a vocational course to be an electrician at Montfort Boys Town and soon got a job with a company.

Also, parents’ attitude that their children must have a degree appears to partly to blame here.