Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said the move would make graduates more marketable and help resolve the high unemployment rate among them. “I have talked with Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Shafie Salleh and we have agreed that we should put this suggestion to work,” he said at his office here yesterday.
I think that our authorities are unfortunately, either not facing up to the reality or are not thinking straight with regards to the issues relating to the "unemployability" of our fresh graduates. To determine if the above measure is going to be useful in making our graduates more "marketable", we have to evaluate the real reasons why these graduates are no so marketable. The reasons given by various employers, and publish in various newspaper sources have been made fairly clearly - the weaknesses of some of these graduates varies from:
- the lack of English language competencies,
- poor interactive skills,
- poor choice of degree courses,
- poor quality degree courses or
- more blatantly, just too many students who barely passed their degree examinations.
From my personal point of view, as well as through the experience of interviewing many of these fresh graduates, the reasons why some of the candidates are not "marketable" are in the order of importance:
- poor academic results (I'm referring to those who barely eeked out a degree)
- poor academic rigour in certain local universities (so you can imagine how bad is poor results in weak university)
- poor attitude (have a look at my blog on "Grads need to be serious"
- poor English, interaction and communication skills
It doesn't matter so much the exact priorities of the above - or whether the "general" opinion of employers or that of mine is more accurate - the key question is how does "skills training" actually alleviate that above concerns?
"Skills training" in a polytechnic is not going to improve the graduate's academic result and capabilities and it would not affect the quality of teaching in the relevant university. Neither will the "skills training" help with attitude issues nor will it improve the candidate's English competence. As far as I can tell, the good students with better attitudes will continue to do well for the skills training while the weaker students will be equally poor with the same training. The authorities need to realise that providing skills training is significantly different from making the graduates skilled.
The authorities also need to realise that if some of these graduates need to undergo "skills training" in order to make them more marketable, maybe the key reason why they are not marketable in the first place could be that they shouldn't be in a university but in a polytechnic? In our rush to make our population more educated and flood our markets with "degree" holders, have we:
- recruited too many students to our universities by over-expanding enrolment when many of these students don't merit a university placement? Will these students have been better served to enrol into skills based courses in polytechnics, which will provide them with better perspectives of what they can achieve as well as better "marketability" in the relevant sectors of our industry
- set up too many new universities and converted too many polytechnics into universities? Were we too eager to be proud of "how many" universities are there in Malaysia as opposed to whether we can deliver the necessary quality education? Could the rapid pace of university expansion be equally matched by an increase in academic lecturers and staff without sacrificing quality for quantity? This appears unlikely to be the case.
In addition, it is my believe that a university education is not about "skills training". While "skills training" may be useful, its more important for the universities to be inculcating in our brightest minds critical thinking and strong analytical skills (irrespective of subject matter). When I hire a fresh computer science graduate, I do not expect him or her to be immediately competent in all programming language skills. I look instead for strong understanding of how programming languages work (the concepts are fairly standard, it just the language is a tad different), excellent logical thinking as well as the ability to quickly pick up new "skills" (e.g., new programming languages) as part of his work.
Many of our government authorities as well as our educationists are getting too proud to admit as well as face up to the key issues why some of our degree graduates are not marketable. Poor degree courses, weak "universities" which passes students easily as well as minimum enrolment standards are the KEY reasons for our graduate unemployment. The sooner we face up to these reasons and work towards a solution to these problems, the sooner we will resolve our graduates "marketability" issues. The more time we waste on piecemeal actions, tweaking on minor or possibly irrelevant issues, the worse the non-marketability issue will get (with more of these unmarketable graduates coming into the market on a yearly basis).