Three E’s to employability

Apart from the do’s and don’ts of acing an interview, one needs to be adaptable when on the job.

DRESS up, be confident, make eye contact. These are the common tips featured in “how to ace an interview” articles.

For the jobless fresh graduate, these articles may be a lifeline, to be followed to the letter. However, the results may be unnerving.

During the recent Roundtable on Graduate Employability organised by KDU University College, editor and head Lily Cheah said that she had encountered an interviewee who stared at her, without moving his gaze, the entire time she was talking. It was quite discomforting, she added.

“I know that he was trying to make eye contact but it was not coming across well,” she said, adding that being calm and acting naturally during interviews was an important factor.

“They (interviewers) want to find out what the person really is like,” she said.

Cheah was one of the six panelists during the roundtable that included other individuals from the Government, various industries and an education institution, who gathered to discuss solutions to graduate unemployability.

The Graduate Employability Blueprint 2012-2017, released by the then Higher Education Ministry included employer reports which said that graduates lacked several “key characteristics” — a strong command of English, the right attitude and the ability to solve problems.

Commenting on the current employment situation, Education Ministry senior principal assistant secretary (Planning and Research Division) Dr Guan Eng Chan said 75% of graduates from both the private and public universities were gainfully employed or furthered their studies within six months of graduation.

He congratulated KDU University College on having a 95% graduate employability rate, which was high compared to the national average.

“But to our surprise, the unemployability rate is not that serious because after two years, we conducted longitudinal studies and went back to the old graduates and found that 100% were employed,” he said, adding that this meant that graduates could find jobs if they wanted to.

He said that the other issue contributing to unemployability was institutions not knowing market needs. “Some just jump onto the bandwagon and end up producing too many graduates in the same field,” he said.

Roundtable moderator Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Syed Ahmad Hussein pointed out that many industries were able to get “the bodies” but were unable to get high quality employees.

American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) governor and Malaysian American Electronics Industry (MAEI) chairman Datuk Wong Siew Hai highlighted some of the problems that might affect the quality of graduates.

“The main problem is the command of English,” he said. He added that many fresh graduates also lacked the ability to express themselves and explain things.

“When you ask them to tell you something about themselves, they struggle,” he said.

Dr Guan concurred, saying that knowing languages was an important factor.

“It’s not just English. If you are multilingual, you stand a better chance to gain employment,” he said.

KDU University College vice-chancellor Dr Khong Yoon Loong said that the institution had launched an initiative called the E³-Boosters, which will ensure that its graduates receive the necessary skills required to address the common shortcomings.

“We spent the better part of last year thinking about this ... and decided to go back to what the employers are saying. We found out that 60% of them are saying that they don’t hire because of poor communication.

“Another 40% say they can’t hire the candidate because he or she has a poor attitude or poor interpersonal relationship skills. This is related to emotional intelligence.

“Another 20-25% say that the candidates lack problem-solving skills and we translated this to entrepreneurship,” he said, explaining the origin of the “three E’s” – English, Emotional intelligence and Entrepreneurship.

Dr Khong added that the university would provide opportunities for all students to learn these skills while pursuing their various courses.

When asked about how good attitudes could be fostered among students, he said that the university could create situations that would allow attitude development.

“We need to create circumstances for them to respond to.” He said that older people could act as role models for the students as well.

Dr Khong added that students needed to meet older people with different management styles, tactics and personalities for only then could they work and adapt to different situations.

He stressed to the students that they should get involved in co-curricular activities.

“Get involved as much as you can on campus. Don’t spend all your time just reading books,” he said.

All the panelists agreed that experiential learning was important and Wong encouraged students to find work — paid or voluntary — during their holidays.

“It makes a lot of difference to be exposed to the working environment,” he said, recounting his time working at a theme park while he was still a student, during which he did a range of different jobs, including manual labour like cleaning rides.

“Get that kind of exposure. There’s so much learning. You learn adaptability and when problems surface on the job, you have to find solutions,” he said.

Wong later added that graduates also needed to know what kind of career they wanted before they applied for the jobs.

“If your goal is to be a musician and you want a job at the same time, then you cannot work in a company where the hours are from nine to five,” he said.

“If the goals of the individual and company are not the same, the candidate has to decide whe-ther or not to take the job. It’s best to know upfront.”

Dr Khong, speaking from an organisation’s perspective, said that sometimes organisations also looked for specific people to fit the working environment.

“Some organisations may be fast-paced and may prefer to hire someone who is a “do-er”, rather than a slow and steady thinker. Not all jobs suit all people,” he said.

He also said that the world was rapidly changing and that today’s generation of fresh graduates were not the same as those in the past.

“After five to 10 years in a job, you end up doing something that you were not trained for.

“Your generation is very different from our generation. You don’t expect to do the same job for the rest of your life.

“So whatever you are trained in, adaptability is very important,” he said.

He quoted the idiom “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink”, reminding the students that although the university was ensuring that the necessary skills were incorporated into all their courses, the students had to play their part in making the effort to learn those skills.

“At the end of the day, you are the horse that has to drink the water. We can only show you where the water is,” he said.

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