Universiti Teknologi Petronas' mission to produce well-rounded graduates has been paying off, with 90% of its students getting employed within six months of graduation.
LESS than a month after graduating from Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), Thiviya Ramalingam landed her dream job at ExxonMobil in Singapore.
The 23-year-old Mechanical Engineering graduate had her pick of potential employers, but it was the lure of a challenging yet rewarding career in the multinational oil and gas company that sealed her decision.
She started work as Fixed Equipment and Inspection engineer with ExxonMobil Chemical Operations Pte Ltd in June, 2019 and savours every moment on the job.
“The job is challenging but it’s what I expected and I love it, ” she says.
In securing her dream job she credits both the academic rigour at UTP and soft skills honed at the university.
“The UTP experience was a mixture of technical knowledge and sharpening of skills. UTP’s culture of blending real world engineering and academic study made me mentally open to corporate scenarios. My involvement in various UTP-organised corporate social responsibility programmes sharpened my social skills.”
She adds that the lecturers and mentors also played a key role in preparing her for the job market.
“They taught me how to continue and excel in what I do even in the face of difficulty, or with little or no indication of success. That made me what I am today.”
Yap also credits his lecturer for setting him on his career path.
Civil Engineering graduate Yap Zhi Kuan also credits his lecturer for setting him on his career path.
“After my last semester at UTP, I had the option of either pursuing a postgraduate programme or joining the industry, ” adding that it was his final year project supervisor who helped him identify his priorities and narrow the options.
“After completing my studies in May, I took a short holiday and then started looking for career opportunities. I got a job within three months, ” says the 23-year-old who is an Associate Subsea eEngineer in McDermott Asia Pacific.
Yap and Thiviya are some of UTP’s recent success stories, and the university has had a stellar track record in the last two decades. Typically, 90% of its graduates secure a job six months after graduation.
“It’s no longer the chalk-and-talk approach to teaching but through our Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETaL) we look at what’s the best way for a student to learn. We train our lecturers to recognise that students learn differently, ” said UTP’s Assoc Prof Dr Nor Hisham Hamid.
UTP Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs & Alumni) Assoc Prof Dr Nor Hisham Hamid attributes the university’s track record to the academic curriculum as well as how it prepares the students for the job market, primarily the oil and gas, and energy sectors.
“Our mission is to produce well-rounded graduates with seven key attributes – technical competence, critical thinking, communications and behavioural skills, business acumen, practical aptitude, solution synthesis ability and commitment to lifelong learning.
“This model was developed 22 years ago and it has helped us develop the right graduates for industry, ” says Nor Hisham, adding that a significant part of student development takes place outside the classroom.
UTP, he adds, puts emphasis on students participating in extra curricular activities, whether it’s organising the convocation festival, entrepreneurial endeavours or sports and performing arts programmes.
“These help develop and hone communication skills, practical aptitude and business acumen. Students gain a first-hand experience in the importance of time management, budgeting and project management, while developing an entrepreneurial mindset at the same time, ” he says.
The university’s seven-month internship programme – the most extensive in the country – is a key developmental tool for its students. “It allows students to be aware of the opportunities and be open to new challenges, ” he says, adding that about half of its graduates are hired by the host organisation.
UTP graduates get the thumbs up from the industry.
The qualities of UTP graduates have not gone unnoticed by the industry and employers. Deleum Bhd Group managing director Nan Yusri Nan Rahimy says that from an overall perspective, there is a noticeable distinction between UTP graduates and graduates from other local universities.
“When we recruit new employees, technical competency is already expected as a given skill. We look for not only proficiency in English but also the ability to communicate and interact, ” he says, pointing out that these qualities are especially lacking among those entering the workforce today.
“The non-technical skills are the most crucial because we need employees who can interact with customers and vendors and be able to think critically, ” he adds.
Dr Shahrul Yazid Yahaya, a research and development manager at Intel Malaysia, says the company looks for candidates who not only excel in their respective technical domains, but are also able to think critically, act methodically, and communicate effectively.
He adds that the company seeks candidates who can demonstrate the ability to continuously learn as well as handle the complexities of working within teams, and all the while conduct themselves ethically.
The company, he adds, has hired many UTP graduates over the years. “For that reason UTP continues to be one of the important campus recruitment destinations for Intel Malaysia, ” he says.
Apart from the academic and non-academic preparations the university offers, Nan Yusri who is a member of UTP’s Student Development Advisory Council feels that UTP’s multinational student population is a plus in preparing job-ready graduates.
“The international student community offers an opportunity for those who are interested in learning about new cultures to interact with people of different backgrounds and this can boost their confidence and be an asset when they start working, ” he adds.
Through Deleum’s graduate engineers programme, the oil and gas company has hired many UTP graduates yearly. “They fare well here and many who we hired in the early years of the programme are still with us," he comments.
Graduates of tomorrow
Besides preparing students for the current job market, UTP is cognisant of the changes in the workplace – therefore, ensuring its graduates are future-proof is key.
Nor Hisham says: “We do this by ensuring that the curriculum fundamentals are strong. We challenge the students with different projects and also by the way we teach. It’s no longer the chalk-and-talk approach to teaching but through our Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETaL) we look at what’s the best way for a student to learn. We train our lecturers to recognise that students learn differently.
“By implementing problem-based learning there is also much more self learning involved, and lecturers facilitate learning through discussions in the classrooms and by providing the opportunity to come up with different solutions. Students see value in this, and through this process they learn to defend their ideas, negotiate as well as communicate and convince. These are skills that are highly valued in the workplace.”
As a university that focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses, Hisham points out that UTP is also attuned to the skills required in today’s job market.
“Our programmes emphasise the fundamentals because regardless of the future the basics are unchanged. But we do have the flexibility to add courses that address future needs, ” he says.
In September this year for instance, UTP introduced a business management programme with an emphasis on data analytics.
“This is a niche area. Our focus is still oil and gas, but data is the new oil so this is not a conventional business degree in the sense that it will be heavy on case studies on oil and gas for example, ” he says.
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