Opportunities in the crisis

IT took Amira Ahmad, 27, more than two years after graduation to get a job in the marketing and sales department of a resort hotel. Her dream was to work her way up to general manager. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. It took her less than two months to lose her job.

Undeterred, Amira decided to improve her technology skills while looking for a new job.

“I think with my business management degree, having some tech skills like data analytics or cloud computing will only enhance my marketability,” she said.

The government’s new initiative to help Malaysians reskill under the Penjana economic package is just what she needs, Amira said.

As Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Friday, unemployed persons can claim a training allowance of up to RM4,000 from the Social Security Organisation (Socso), even if they do not contribute to the employee insurance scheme.

In May, it was reported that chief statistician Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin projected the country’s unemployment rate will rise to 5.5% this year due to the impact of Covid-19.

On Wednesday, The Star reported Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan as saying that job prospects in the private sector will be bleak for the rest of the year.

“For those who are new (to the job market) and those who have just lost their jobs, the prospects of them getting a job this year and even up to next year are going to be bad. Most companies are relooking at their manpower requirements; they are trying to trim and adopt a no-recruitment policy,” Shamsuddin was quoted as saying.

Amira pointed out that the job market was already challenging for young people before the crisis.

“Even some of my university seniors were still unemployed before the Covid-19 crisis,” she said.

At a recent webinar titled “Post-Covid-19: What lies ahead for Malaysian youths?”, jointly organised by local think tank Research for Social Advancement and youth empowerment move-ment Undi18, Mohd Amirul Rafiq Abu Rahim, a research associate at Khazanah Research Institute, highlighted that the unemploy-ment rate among young people before the pandemic was already high: in 2019, 508,000 were unemployed and 60% of that number were youth. According to the Department of Statistics, out of the total number of unemploy-ed persons in the country, graduate unemployment accounted for 29.3%.

Shayne Ng, who graduated last year, agreed with Amira. She says she has been looking for a job since last October.

“I got an interview in late February, and it seemed like I did OK. But then the pandemic was declared, and the MCO (movement control order) period started. The company told me that things were unsure so they couldn’t give me an answer yet,” she said.

Ng welcomed news of the RM600 monthly incentive for apprenticeships for school leavers and graduates under the economic package.

“At least it’s something. I hope I qualify, though, and it will be in an area I’m interested in,” she said.

David S. just finished his final exams last week and also hoped to take up an apprenticeship under the programme. The 23-year-old is also excited about the digital economy boost – it was announced that the Malaysia Digital Economic Corp will receive a RM25mil grant for the Global Online Workforce programme to educate Malaysians on generating income via international e-commerce business while a National Technology and Innovation Sandbox will be set up to explore new technologies.

Experts have already pointed out that uncertainty throughout the crisis will mean that our youth will have to adapt and be flexible to find every opportunity available, whether it be via self-improvement via upskilling and vocational work or via entrepreneurship.

Dr Melati Nungsari, an assistant professor of Economics at the Asia School of Business, said entrepreneurship is one alternative to entering the labour force for the young.

Dr Melati, who also spoke at the webinar, pointed to the Rapid Youth Success Entrepreneurship programme – which picks 600 people and provides them with RM10,000 to start a small business – as one possibility.

“My advice to young people is to think short term ... and maybe to accept jobs that aren’t so great.

“Maybe do more gig work that you may not like. Maybe you may end up liking it and keeping (the job) long-term. Nobody can tell you how exactly things will get better. For now, you can hedge against uncertainty by keeping your options open,” she said.

Dr Melati also encouraged youth to take up offers of free online courses by universities.

“Take advantage of that. Think of the money people normally pay when its not all free. Use this time to pad your resumes with certain skills. Do this while staying afloat and just try to get through this.”

Another speaker, former CEO of Talentcorp Shareen Abdul Ghani, said digital technology as an industry will be the next big economic wave, and labour force policies will have to shift to ensure that workers are dynamically skilled to meet future demand for skilled labour.

However, she noted that the upskilling of workers will require the right talents to come in at the right time and in the right places. She said, currently, a mismatch between demand for skills and the supply of qualified labour has become an acute problem that will need to be addressed.

Shareen nonetheless said there seems to be a silver lining in the crisis.

“Although the crisis has greatly reduced consumer demand, it has also opened the discussion for reforming labour practices and has pushed the government to create a stronger safety net.

“Working from home has now become an acceptable alternative, but much more, such as protections for gig workers without stifling their flexibility, needs to be looked into,” she said.

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job , career , graduates , Penjana , economic package


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