Getting youths hired

Doing it together: Concentrated effort needed to tackle youth unemployment. –

Need for holistic approach to address jobless woes among the young

THE Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA) categorises youths as individuals aged between 15 and 24.

According to data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), there were 356,000 unemployed youths as of February this year, which is high vis-à-vis the overall national figure across all employment categories. This is worrying because youths are the future of our economic sustainability.

Compounding the problem are the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, increasing inflationary pressures in the global economy, slow reopening of the Chinese market, given their focus on a zero-Covid policy, and the probability of the United States economy heading towards a recession.

A bearish outlook on the global stock market performance over the next few quarters further adds to our woes.

As a major trading partner to some of these countries, Malaysia sits in the centre of the vortex of these economic uncertainties.

When the going gets tough, employers tend to retain staff who are more senior as seniority is often correlated with more trust, reliability, and being able to work independently.

This leaves the youth workforce vulnerable to job losses, assuming employers tend to use the last-in-first-out principle.

Another reason that explains youth unemployment is the mismatch between demand from industry and skills or competencies that the youths possess.

This could be due to the youths not understanding industry demands and changes that are taking place.

Meanwhile, the advent of advanced technology driven by innovative processes has led to a drop in demand for lower-skilled jobs which can be easily automated. In short, the rapid digitalisation of business processes and value chains puts further pressure on youth unemployment, particularly on those who are unskilled.

One in 10 Malaysian youths fall into the not in education, employment or training (NEET) category.

These youths are often classified as highly vulnerable and face the risk of becoming participants in the dark economy, namely, gangsterism, drug trafficking, and being involved in other negative and unproductive activities.

Multilevel stakeholder approach

A multilevel stakeholder approach is needed to tackle youth unemployment in the country. Some of these ideas are worth considering:

> The government should facilitate job creation through strategic public-private partnerships.

This would require the relevant authorities and agencies to revisit and to map out the talent gap reports and studies according to our national aspirations in paving the way forward for our economy.

From this mapping, there is a need to ensure that relevant partnerships and projects are rolled out and monitored to ensure youth unemployment issues are adequately addressed.

In terms of technical and vocational education and training (TVET), the German model could be a good reference point. We have good TVET initiatives but the streamlining of TVET providers, through the recent formation of the National TVET Council (MTVET), should be given focus. A well-coordinated effort to avoid overlap or decentralisation is a must.

There is also an urgent need for the government to create a stable and conducive environment for youth workers, especially those who are keen on participating in gig jobs as youths are increasingly leveraging the opportunities proffered by the digital economy. Leveraging the agricultural roots that we have – farming and getting youths to work on farms or in cooperative efforts – could also prove useful in helping with our national food security agenda. A public-private partnership model merits consideration.

> The private sector should be encouraged to hire youths.

Companies could invest in young talent who may not have the skills to fill the shoes of their seniors yet, as part of their corporate social responsibility or to benefit from certain tax breaks.

Participating in “place and train” projects like the short-term economic recovery plan, or the Penjana scheme, is another method for private sector involvement.

> Collectively, we need to ensure that programmes and courses offered by education institutes and skills development centres are relevant to the macroeconomic agenda and national aspirations. Industry-driven courses are a must and higher education institutions (HEIs) must avoid the mass production of graduates who lack the skills and competencies required by industry.

In this regard, the relevant authorities must assert greater effort to monitor the quality of graduates that HEIs are producing – especially HEIs that have a poor track record of employability rates.

Rather than looking at science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as difficult, and TVET as secondary, the mindset shift for both parents and children should start early on.

STEM and TVET exposure should play an integral role from the primary level.

Beyond education

We still need to depend on foreign labour to fill the low-skilled jobs as Malaysia is churning out talents armed with paper qualifications for the skilled sectors. Youths who have the backing of their families and those with better social nets tend to pursue their passions first, even delaying employment until they find what they desire.

The requirements of this current generation, namely, how they learn, what they like, and how and when they like learning delivered, must be considered.

Knowledge is just a click away so education and training must be reimagined by taking into account social media, search engines, gamified content, tech platforms, content on demand, student-centred learning, and the use of authentic assessments that are industry-driven such as hackathons.While the introduction of the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) is a move in the right direction, there is a need to consider more pathways to a formal qualification.

How do we credit someone who has never been to college, yet is a successful entrepreneur? Can they be awarded a PhD in leadership or entrepreneurship? These are important questions to address if we are to produce a holistic response to youth unemployment.

Prof Dr Murali Raman is the deputy vice-chancellor (academic development & strategy) overseeing post graduate and continuous education at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU). Focused on executive training and consultancy, his niche training areas include design thinking, coloured brain communication and emotional drivers, digital economy, crafting digital strategies, and mindset change. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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