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The Post-Grad Hustle: 1 In 5 Graduates Are Unemployed

We have all been told that we need to “Study hard, go to university, get a degree – because that’s the only way you will get a good job”. This ongoing mantra of parents has proven true for many generations, is it still true today? Will a degree alone give you access to your desired organisation or industry?

In 2019, there were 5.29 million graduates in the job market[1]. Of this number, 330,557 were fresh graduates[2]. In 2020, it is estimated that another 300,000 graduates joined the job market[2]

In recent years, many fresh graduates have voiced concerns about being undermined in more ways than one. High unemployment rates; mismatch in job opportunities & employer demands; low starting salaries; long work hours and unpaid overtime are just to name a few. It has reached an extent where several youths have discouraged others from taking the education route, as a way to prevent future generations from making the same ‘mistakes’.

While we know that youth’s social rants should not be taken too seriously and most are based on personal opinion, perception and experience – this was a topic worth looking into – especially when data and numbers are available to shape a credible conversation. 

A Rise In Fresh Graduate Unemployment

Source: Vulcan Post

In Malaysia, out of the roughly 300,000 students that graduated, 1 in 5 remain unemployed 6 months after graduation[3].

The pandemic has exacerbated the issue and Malaysia’s Minister of Higher Education highlighted the problem. 

Taking into account the impact of Covid-19, the ministry estimates that 25 per cent or 75,000 potential graduates will have their employment opportunities disrupted, six months after they graduated. Based on 41,161 graduates that have yet to be employed in 2019, as well as the 75,000 potential graduates for this year [2020], it is estimated that 116,161 graduates needed attention in increasing their employability. – Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad (Minister of Higher Education[2]

According to Eduadvisor among fresh graduates with tertiary education, degree holders have the highest unemployment rates, with 25% of them being unemployed. Most of the unemployed (35%) are from Social Science, Business and Law fields. Engineering Manufacturing and Construction fields were close behind, with 24.1% of fresh graduates in this field finding it difficult to land a job. 

Malaysia’s graduate workforce is growing – of the 5.29 million graduates in 2019, 4.25 million were able to find employment. 73.3% of whom were involved in professional occupations[1]. The 170,300 people that were unemployed were actively looking for work.

The number of unemployed graduates has seen a 5.5% increase from 2018 to 2019. Of this total, there were more unemployed female graduates compared to male graduates[1]

Graduates May Not Be Meeting Industry Demands 

Source: Bloomberg

Whilst most educational institutions provide graduates with academic and professional qualifications within a more stable and predictable environment, employers are constantly looking for more ‘flexible’ skill sets.

Graduates need to make themselves more marketable and equip themselves with multiple skills that are not confined to their area of study.– Associate Professor Dr. Hariharan N. Krishnasamy of Universiti Utara Malaysia[5].

Skills that cannot be taught in a classroom, but gained through experience, such as, technical skills, critical thinking,  good command of English, ability to work independently, problem-solving skills, as well as communication skills. Failing to acquire these very skills can be the determining factor between a job offer or a rejection notice. 

Khazanah Research Institute in 2018 stated that ‘soft skills’ and ‘work experience’ were ranked highest amongst skills most valued by employers[4].

KRI also identified that internships, apprenticeships and prior-work experience before entering the job market gives graduates an edge above the rest.

A Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Salary Survey for Executives 2019 showed that 88% of respondent companies agreed that internships make graduates more employable[6]

Although the purpose of internships is for the individual to gain ‘hands-on experience’, whether an internship is paid or unpaid is completely up to employers. Whilst individuals are working 40 hours/week (excluding overtime), and have similar responsibilities to a full-time employee, many are not compensated for their work. 

It was only in 2019, when the then Minister of Youth and Sports, Syed Saddiq, pushed for those doing internships at government ministries and agencies, to receive a monthly allowance of RM900[7]. All private companies are not included in this bill thus can pay an intern anywhere between RM300-RM1000[8]. Although some interns are lucky enough to receive more than this, more often than not, companies opt to advertise unpaid internships. 

Another study by KRI in 2018 revealed that youth were willing to take on lower-skilled jobs but also willing to accept lower wages and join internship programs to gain the necessary working experience/skills[4]. The internship path seems to be a proven route to get youth the ‘dream jobs’ they desire – however, the question remains, how many of the soon-to-be graduates are actively seeking and participating in internships? 

Mismatch Expectations On Starting Salaries

Source: The Rakyat Post

Both the Jobstreet and the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Salary survey believed that despite the lack of hands-on experience, fresh graduates were asking for unrealistic salaries and benefits. 

60% of fresh graduates expect a salary of RM3,500 for their first job. 30% expected a paycheque of RM6,500[9].

While the expectations of fresh graduates are exorbitant and unrealistic, the current reality is far from their lofty demands. 

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, the majority of fresh (diploma) graduates earned between RM1,001 and RM1,500 per month[10]

Taking into account Malaysia’s minimum wage is RM1,200 per month (RM5.77 per hour) just shows how low salaries have gotten. 

In 2018, Bank Negara estimated the starting salary of a fresh (bachelor degree) graduate holder to be RM2,207 per month[11]. In 2019, there was a very slight increase, recording fresh graduate salaries at RM2,378 per month[12]

The salary scale varies according to industry and employment location. For example, in 2019, a fresh graduate in Accounting can earn a minimum salary of RM1,431-RM2,018 in East Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak) but earn an average minimum of RM1,912-RM2,861 in Northern Malaysia (Perlis, Kedah, Penang & Perak)[13].

Similarly, those fresh graduates working in Human Resources can earn RM2,426-RM3,458 in Central Malaysia (Selangor, Kuala Lumpur & Putrajaya), while the same positions in East Coast (Kelantan, Pahang & Terengganu) can range from RM2,910 – RM4,180 per month[13].

With the imbalance in supply and demand in certain industries, fresh graduates have had to take up lower-skilled jobs or look for jobs outside their field of expertise and study. Obtaining a degree is not a guarantee of job security these days. In order to survive and keep up with the rising costs of living, fresh graduates now have to double down and decorate their resumes with real tangible skills and experience to increase their employability.

Get A Head Start In Your Graduate Career!

Source: Unsplash

Here are three practical ways fresh graduates can gain a competitive edge in their job search and find their spot in the marketplace:

#1: Start building your network 

Whilst you are studying, working part-time or interning – it’s never too early to build your portfolio of contacts. Networking is about getting to know people and building relationships that can reveal hidden or unadvertised job opportunities. Networking is about starting conversations and it can be as simple as asking a friend about their work. 

Build relationships through professional and interest groups both on site and online. Be sure to update your social media portfolios because interested parties may look you up on social media first before contacting you for that job interview. Ensure that your Linkedin bio and profile is up to date. 

Referrals are generally the number one way of hiring people. Building long-term, mutually beneficial connections will bring benefits throughout your career. Building a network of contacts can directly impact your career progression and success.You never know who you will meet, so don’t be afraid to start those conversations. 

#2: Market your resume 

Ensure your resumes highlight skills and experiences that prove you are not just limited to your field of expertise. Make sure you take time to craft a good looking, well-developed resume that communicates what you are good at and who you are. 

A potential employer would like to see individuality, your core strengths and your portfolio of abilities and expertise. Make every sentence and bullet point on your resume count by adding value to it. 

Your experiences and capabilities should demonstrate a return on investment if the employer hires you. Substantiate your claims with proven results and details. Where possible add referrals or commendation letters. Once you send your resume, be sure to follow up on after a short period of time to show that you are initiated and interested. 

#3: Never stop learning 

Statistically, internships and apprenticeship programmes do give a candidate a better chance of employment. Internships will prime you for the workplace and will help you understand industry demands. Nothing beats hands-on experience.

Always be on the lookout for programmes that will keep you clued into your industry. Research skills that are currently in high demand and learn them. Taking time to improve on soft skills such as leadership, communication and interpersonal skills as these skills are necessary and beneficial for your career and personal life.

In cases where you want to add to your work portfolio, offer to do piecemeal projects for credible brands – pro bono, as a learning opportunity for you and a chance to add to your portfolio.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2020). Graduate Statistics 2019. Link. 
  2. D. Dzulkifly. (2020). Higher Education Minister Foresees 75,000 Fresh Grads Struggling to Get Jobs in COVID 19 Era. Malaymail. Link.
  3. M. Leo. (2019). What You Didn’t Know About Fresh Graduate Unemployment in Malaysia. EduAdvisor. Link. 
  4. Khazanah Research Institute. (2018). Fact Sheet: The School to Work Transition of Young Malaysians. Link.
  5.  V. D’Silva. (2020). More and More Graduates are Facing Unemployment in Malaysia. News Straits Times. Link. 
  6. R. Rajaendram. (2019). Don’t Sell Yourself Short. The Star. Link. 
  7. Kementrian Beliau & Sukan. (2019). Berkenaan Mesyuarat Khas Jemaah Menteri Mengenai Isu Belia. Twitter. Link.
  8.  N. H. A. Bakar. (2019). What to Expect from Your Internship Role in Malaysia. EasyUni. Link. 
  9. Jobstreet. (2015). Employers: Fresh Graduates Have Unrealistic Expectations. Link. 
  10. J. Tan. (2021). DOSM: Fresh Graduates Were Paid Minimum Wage In 2020. RinggitPlus. Link. 
  11. E. Chong & F. A. Khong. (2018). The Living Wage: Beyond Making Ends Meet. Bank Negara Malaysia. Link.
  12.  J. Cho. (2020). M’Sian Fresh Grads’ Average Salary In 2019 was just RM2,378 A Month, Only Slightly Higher than 2018. The Smart Local. Link. 
  13. JobStreet. (2019). Salary Report. Link. 
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