DUBBED the “Corona Class of 2020”, this year’s cohort of varsity graduates are entering what economists have described as one of the worst global recessions in history.
In the United Kingdom (UK), the Institute of Student Employers, which represents some of the country’s largest employers, found that more than a quarter, or 27%, of businesses, are reducing the number of graduates they recruit this year, and 23% will cut apprenticeship and school leaver programmes.
Locally, the Malaysian Employers Federation estimated that unemployment could hit two million this year.
But even as factors such as student loan debts and unemployment loom over them, there is still room for the “Class of 2020” to not only succeed, but even soar, if they are flexible, adaptable and willing to work hard.
While employment opportunities in some sectors have decreased due to the pandemic, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh said this was already the case even before the pandemic hit.
“The job market was already changing because of digital disruption.
“The pandemic simply accelerated this disruption and many companies are using this as an opportunity to reinvent their businesses to take full advantage of digital technology.
“The result of this is a transformation in jobs and in the very nature of work, with jobs involving manual and repetitive tasks gradually being replaced by those that are heavily enabled and supported by disruptive technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and fintech.
“So, there will always be opportunities for graduates who are well prepared with the ability to adapt to this digital disruption, ” he said.
Varsities future-proofing graduates has become essential now, Parmjit said, as graduates need to possess a high degree of adaptability, resilience and technological awareness.
This will enable them to cope with the rapid transformation occurring across all sectors.
“Universities will need to continue and intensify their efforts in supporting students to secure internships and job opportunities, particularly in addressing the new opportunities brought about by digital disruption.
“However, this perhaps needs to be done differently with career fairs, internship programmes and placement activities being conducted virtually to address the new normal and to also provide students with access to opportunities globally, instead of depending purely on local recruitments, ” he said.
Universiti Sains Malaysia National Higher Education Research Institute deputy director Dr Wan Chang Da agreed.
Varsities, he said, play a massive role in developing students holistically.
They must have the ability to survive in times like these, building their entrepreneurial skills, taking risks and seizing opportunities, he added.
Higher education institutions are doing all they can to ensure the employability of their graduates.
For years, Malaysian varsities have provided students with career counselling facilities.
Understanding the anxiety graduating students are feeling, higher education institutions are stepping up to provide the right support.
This year, Taylor’s University will see some 3,000 students graduating.
An internship is a compulsory credit-bearing module that all Taylor’s students have to undergo as a pre-graduation requirement.
Its Career Resources and Employer Relations (CaReER) head Izwal Mazlan said the varsity has shifted its services online in a bid to adjust to the new normal.
New content has been developed on different categories of topics that will help students’ employability and job hunting strategies.
Izwal said the content is shared across various online channels like emails, student portals, social media platforms and mobile apps.
“Some of this content includes networking opportunities, job openings, recorded webinars, online articles and videos, and virtual tools like templates, checklists and databases.”
Among the programmes offered by CaReER are professional development webinars, virtual tours and office visits, e-career talks and virtual interviews.
“Covid-19 made on-campus career fairs a challenge so we are working with our external career partners such as Talentbank, TalentCorp, Graduan and Seeds Job Fair to promote digital careers and internship fairs for our students.
“We encourage them to attend so that they don’t miss out on opportunities just because of the pandemic, ” he said.
While some employers have been badly affected, Izwal said others continue to be active by virtually engaging with the varsity to look for talent.
Sunway University has also moved to virtual platforms to work with its different faculties in starting internship preparatory workshops.
Sunway Career Services head Rose Madonna Devaraj said the varsity brought in employers and trainers to conduct workshops on interview skills, grooming, how to write curriculum vitaes and prepare students for their first jobs.
“We also conduct a pre-employment briefing before they are done with the final semester. This is where we do a survey to understand their needs and what they are looking for.
“Our students have requested career consultation and advisory services, which we now provide virtually.
“From now onwards, the university will be utilising our career portal to help students navigate their internships end-to-end.
“They will apply for internship opportunities and confirm their placements through the portal.
“Once students start their internships, supervisors, along with Career Services, will check in with the different employers to track our students’ progress and how they are being supervised, ” she explained.
From the feedback they’ve received from various industries, Rose said there is a decrease of between 10% and 30% in permanent hires.
The hotel and tourism industry, she said, has been hit the worst, propelling Sunway University to provide support by sourcing for internships and job leads.
“We’re also seeing some industries and organisations such as those in e-commerce and manufacturing hiring in a higher capacity during this period.
“It’s important for those of us in Career Services to advise students to think differently and look at opportunities beyond their areas of studies, and to consider the different forms of employment, whether it’s an extended internship or contract-based opportunities, to get their foot in the door.
“This can lead to different kinds of prospects.”
So far, 922 students have graduated from Sunway University.Another 1,215 are expected to graduate by the end of the year.
INTI International University & Colleges posts job placements and internship opportunities on their learning management system – Blackboard.
This will be shared with all students who are due for internships, its chief executive officer Tan Lin Nah said.
“During the movement control order (MCO), our Career Services team organised virtual recruitment drives, as well as our first virtual career fair, where more than 100 employers participated and promoted jobs in their companies.
“Virtual interview sessions were arranged for students who had submitted their resumes for jobs and internships, and who were already shortlisted by employers, ” she said, adding that jobs that are in demand are those that leverage on technological know-how and skills, as Covid-19 and the MCO have served as catalysts for organisations to adopt digital transformation.
Expectations on the quality of graduates entering the workplace will be higher than before as organisations are more selective of their hires and are more prudent in the roles they are looking for, said INTI International College Kuala Lumpur chief executive Anis Laila Yap Abdullah in a statement.
“This means that students will need to work hard to acquire the skills – especially those focusing on digital literacy, adaptability and decision making – so that they stand out in this highly competitive job market.
“While securing a role may take longer, companies like DELL, Exabytes, OYO Malaysia and TDCX, which were part of INTI’s virtual career fair, advised students and graduates to use this downtime to build their talent and portfolios through independent projects or short-term work.
“These insights have helped students to realise they need to keep moving forward.”
INTI International College Kuala Lumpur organised its first virtual “Business Week”, aimed at connecting students to current industry trends, challenges and expectations during the pandemic, she said.
“As students aren’t able to return to campus yet, we decided to take our “Business Week” online and give our students the opportunity to build their employability by learning from industry professionals who had to lead organisations during the MCO.
“Hearing our partners share their organisational realities, challenges and solutions gave our students insights into running businesses during tough times.
“This will better prepare them to be future business leaders themselves, ”
A total of 4,500 students from six INTI campuses will be graduating this year.
Noting that many students have had their job offers rescinded or delayed, while many employers have yet to make decisions about recruitment for the remainder of the year, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia is tackling the issue by collaborating with global businesses in a programme designed to help students kickstart their careers.
“Future Made for Success 2020” is a 10-week virtual enterprise programme that incorporates mentoring and an enhanced package of career support to help students begin their careers, said the varsity in a statement.
A series of industry-sponsored scholarships, worth 30% of the tuition fees, will allow students to consider 30 different Master of Science postgraduate courses which builds “in-demand” skills through subjects like Data Science, Renewable Energy Engineering, AI, Robotics and International Fashion Marketing.
“With a focus on talent and innovation as key drivers for recovery, the varsity aims to actively address post Covid-19 socio-economic challenges and propel long-term sustainable growth.
“We are bringing together leading businesses and student talent from our global campuses to tackle the immediate challenges and opportunities.
“By collaborating across disciplines and connecting with highly respected industry partners, we have high hopes that the programme will deliver practical solutions with global impact, ” Heriot-Watt University Enterprise and Business deputy principal Dr Gill Murray said.
The enterprise development programme, she said, will teach graduates about the commercial feasibility of solutions, develop their understanding of business operations and enhance their knowledge of sales, intellectual property and finance.
By supporting and developing the future workforce, the collaboration is building a pool of talent which will help to support the economy during the current crisis and beyond.
“We are particularly interested in attracting graduates from the fields of Business Management, Data Science, AI, Robotics, Software and Energy.”
BAC Education, said its managing director Raja Singham, is taking a two-pronged approach to nation building through the development of digital skills among Malaysians in order to increase growth and create employment.
Its Digital Enterprise and Employee Programme (Project DEEP), a collaboration with the Social Security Organisation and the Human Resources Development Fund, will train 1,000 Malaysians in digital skills.
The programme is designed to encourage foreign investment, empower underserved communities, bridge the existing skills gap, and increase access to education.
“It’s important to hire and train workers for the jobs of the future at a time when everyone needs to work hand in hand to help the economy.
“Public-private partnerships are the way forward and I hope that more companies would come forward to work with the government to create jobs and help our fellow Malaysians get through these challenging times, ” he said in a statement.
The group will harmonise its efforts with the government and its corporate allies to help unemployed locals and fresh graduates achieve employment and be prepared to meet the challenges of automation and digitisation in the workforce.
“We need a collaborative and innovative approach between all the stakeholders – government, as well as private sector employers and employees – if we are going to have any real success in reducing unemployment.
“We will be establishing more partnerships with employers and employment agencies to provide them with digital economy-ready talent.”
Through Project DEEP, enterprises can reskill and upskill existing employees, as well, to ensure their businesses are agile and adaptive to future technological advances, he said.
“By bridging the skills gap and empowering their staff with the right training and knowledge, enterprises will stay ahead of digital disruption.”