MANY local tertiary institutions are aware that today's employers are looking for more than just a degree qualification in graduates. Hence, they have weaved into course content elements that are necessary to build the all-rounder and the thinker.
Dr Goh Chee Leong, director of the Centre for Psychology at HELP Institute, says that many employers are looking for those who are multi-skilled.
“That is why it is important to make sure that students get training in soft skills such as leadership qualities, communication skills, the ability to work under pressure, financing and events management,” he says.
At the centre, although students are encouraged to take up co-curricular activities, these skills are incorporated in the curriculum, he adds.
One activity is the research colloquium where students are required to present their research paper.
“It gives students the opportunity to practise speaking in public and brush up on their English language skills,” he says.
As part of the programme, students are also required to get involved in social activism. This forces them to go out and meet people from all walks of life, he shares, giving them a wider perspective of life.
It is not all academic, however, as the centre organises film festivals as an alternative way to expose students to the outside world.
“Films can expose students to various types of people, giving them a better understanding of human nature,” he adds.
Help Institute academic director Dr Khong Kim Hoong concurs, “At Help we ensure that students are all-rounded – they need to be able to communicate in English well, carry themselves well and think critically.”
More and more students are going into unrelated industries, he adds.
“For the professional course like law, accounting, medicine, you have to be trained in the respective areas.
But that does not mean that graduates with business or psychology degrees will not make good bank executives, for example. Many of the things you can learn on the job, except for technical skills which you need to pick up in the programme.”
Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities (Mapcu) president Tengku Shamsul Bahrin puts critical thinking at the top of the list.
“ We need more people who can be leaders in the industry, not followers. Hence, students have to be taught to think critically and creatively,” he shares.
Many students are still taking up programmes that are “safe” like medicine, law and business, he adds, but there is growing demand in new knowledge such as the Biosciences and Mass Communications.
Tengku Shamsul says that the private education sector tries hard to keep up with the trends in the employment market and industry but is hampered by red tape. He advises students to also look at the partner universities when choosing a programme.
“Many colleges are linking up with foreign universities that offer the latest in the industry to bypass the red tape. For example in accountancy, it is easier to offer a new strand with a foreign university than wait for the ministry to approve it,” he adds.
Despite its reputation, people skills are equally important in Information Technology.
Says senior manager (development) at Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (Apiit) Gurpardeep Singh, the college makes it a point to equip students with communication skills and “self-presentation”.
“Students have to do project papers and present them to the class. This trains them in speaking and writing.
We also have a dress code where students have to dress formally on campus. This way when they start working, they will be used to it,” he adds.
The past few years have seen a decline in interest in IT among students, which Gurpardeep attributes to the early nineties hype that saw students going into IT for the wrong reasons.
“IT seemed to be the groovy thing to do then. Many who went through the programme discovered that it was not something that they enjoyed or when they graduated they found themselves not equipped for work. Everyone was offering IT courses, so as a result there was a high number of IT graduates with a general degree but without the skills to survive in the IT industry.”
He explains that IT is a discipline with fundamental skills and basic theories or concepts that can be applied in any language, such as software development, infrastructure knowledge, and interactive technology.
Gurpardeep is nonetheless optimistic about the industry recovering.
“There is an avenue for IT jobs but for the right people. The demand is still there. Students must have the right transferable skills.
One is problem-solving skills. IT students have to develop problem-solving skills very early in their career because IT is all about problem solving.
“Technical skills you can develop, but usually what is generally current will be out of date when you graduate. So, more important are the transferable skills and fundamental skills.”
Not so for Biotechnology, undisputedly one of the hottest programmes at the moment.
“It is a goldmine and there are many job opportunities but you cannot join a programme just because you think it will be easy to get a job when you graduate. It is important that students are equally interested and have the aptitude for it because the subject is difficult. It is a knowledge-based subject, so it is research-intensive; some might find that boring,” cautions Dr Lee Kong Hung of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar), where the Biotechnology programme was introduced this year.
Although it is hardly a new area, the government’s recent commitment to the growth of the industry, combined with the global trend has made it a very attractive field.
The Bio Valley project, launched last year, could further create up to 17,000 biotechnology-related job opportunities within 10 years, the government announced.
The head of the Engineering and Science Faculty, however, advises students against jumping on the bandwagon,
“Students who are interested should do a thorough research before making any decisions. They have to understand the topic, know what it’s all about and what it will offer,” says Dr Lee.