5 Reasons Why Graduates are Unemployed

Do we wonder reasons why graduates are unemployed?

The increasing unemployment rate among the graduates in Malaysia is a worrying trend. For many years, the issue cropped up again and again, made the news headlines, and even hit the parliament.

The days have passed when a degree scroll can become your automatic passport to employment. Higher education is no longer a symbol of career success. This may sound painful for graduates but let’s face it. It is reality, no matter how harsh it may appear.

[You may also want to read The Unemployment Issue Among the Malay Job Seekers]

In July 2006, The Sun newspaper reported that the unemployment rate of public universities has reached a staggering 70%, whereas the private institutions recorded 26% and foreign graduates 34%. Out of the 70%, the highest unemployment was contributed by the following statistics:

  1. Universiti Teknologi MARA, UiTM – 3,278 (16.2%)
  2. Universiti Utara Malaysia, UUM – 1,532 (7.6%)
  3. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, UTM – 1,147 (5.7%)
  4. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, UKM – 971 (4.8%)
  5. Universiti Putra Malaysia, UPM – 919 (4.5%)

The situation was somewhat different before the 1997 crisis when Malaysia was having a vibrant employment and graduates were in high demand. But those were the good old days and things are no longer the same today. Is the job market getting more competitive, or it is the job seekers and graduates are actually unmarketable these days? Can we blame it entirely on education?

Perhaps we can take a look at some factors that contribute to reasons why graduates are unemployed:

1. Economy

The changing of the economic structure and landscape is a probable cause for the rise in the unemployment. For many years, the manufacturing has been the strongest sector in the country until it is now being progressively replaced by the services sector. The services sector requires people who do not only possess the right technical knowledge, but also those who possess the right soft skills – interpersonal, communication, wisdom, maturity and are business oriented. Now, getting graduates with that kind of quality is a tough endeavor these days. It is even hard to find graduates who can speak moderate English.

Additionally, unlike the manufacturing sector, a company providing services would not require a large number of staff to be employed. Statistics show that between 2006 and 2007, the country’s manufacturing employment grew by 3%, from 3.244 million workers, to 3.347 million. The business services sector employment, on the other hand grew by 2.6%, from 0.771 million, to 0.791 million.

Now, where GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth is concerned, the manufacturing growth recorded 3.1% whereas services tops the chart with a thumping 9% growth.

In English, this means that while the employment growth of services sector is lower compared to manufacturing, it is actually contributing to much higher economic achievement. Get the picture?

Malaysia Unemployment: Why Fresh Graduates are Unemployed in Malaysia2. Quality of education

It seems that every year the country produces more and more brilliant students. This is evident with the increasing number of straight A students in SPM. It is also easier to find degree holders with first class honors. Surely, this is a good yardstick of the graduate’s quality. Is it? Not so, it seems.

My own experience with graduates – not once, but many times – has convinced me that today’s academic achievement has little to do with how well you can excel in the working world. I used to be short listing 4-5 first class graduates for an interview and in the end rejected them all, and hired a second class student instead. It seems that the country is blessed with institutions highly capable to produce low quality, academic achievers. This statement may not bode well with some of the institutions out there but this should be taken as a challenge, not a mockery.

3. Choosy job seekers

I remember when I first got my first job in Penang, I did not have a permanent place to stay as my hometown was back in Terengganu. I was temporarily staying in an old friend’s house. I also did not own any car or motorbike. When asked by my boss how I was going to report for my first day of work, I told him that I would be using the company’s bus.

As the buses were used to transport the production operators, my boss laughed at my face and told me that I would be the first engineer in the history of the company to have used bus coming to work. I got a new place to stay, and my own car only after few months working with the company. The most interesting part is that, I didn’t even ask about the salary when I accepted the job!

But how different it is today. Nowadays, candidates are expecting job offer to come with a package – a good pay, convenient working location, no shift, no work beyond 6pm and so on, with everything handed in a silver platter. Job seekers have come to me to complaints and made admissions that shocked me till no end.

They are not willing to drive from Sentul to Cyberjaya because “It’s very far and I do not want to spend this much money on toll everyday”. Another was not willing to take the LRT from Cheras to Masjid Jamek because “too many people in the train and this will make me stressful.” To date I am yet to come across a job seeker that will tell me, “I’m so glad with this opportunity. As for the transportation, accommodation and other matters, no worries, I will settle them from my end here. I am just glad I don’t need to rely on my parents for pocket money anymore.” Will you be one?

4. Lack of guidance

Blaming the graduates themselves for the whole predicament is not entirely right either. After all, they are products of a flawed system. Majority of them are oblivious to the expectation from them in the employment market. Upon graduation, they become babies again, not ready to face the real world. The supposedly days of liberation suddenly becomes the days of uncertainty. This happens due to obvious discrepancy between the education and the employment – i.e. study is study and work is work. This gap needs an immediate bridging.

While organizing a career fair and sending penultimate students for industrial placement are commendable effort, these are just not enough. Graduating students need a closer feel to the employment world. The career office should be their second home. If that also means bringing executives, engineers and managers into the university to give practical advice to the students, by all means do it. Universiti Teknologi Petronas, UTP has pioneered this move, which won a praise by The Star reader today.

I must take my hat off to University Technology Petronas (UTP), which has formed an Industry Advisory Panel (IAP), and invites professionals from the industry to review their curriculum and suggest areas for improvement. UTP is serious about this and has implemented many of the suggestions introduced by its IAP.

UTP also has an adjunct lectures series where professionals are called in to give lectures to the undergraduates. I think these are good initiatives that other universities would do well to emulate.

– Shyam Lakshmanan, The Star, 17 April 2008

5. Choosy employers

There is no need for long explanation here. As Zaid Ibrahim (that new MP) put it in his book, In Good Faith, it’s catch-22 situation – if the employer is putting ‘working experience’ as a pre-requisite to get a job, when is the fresh graduates going to get their first job?

Image: U of Alberta

31 Replies to “5 Reasons Why Graduates are Unemployed”

  1. the title caught my attention to read through this article. hhm..well, very true about the points.
    I think I fall under the category point no.3. But when I re-think, would I want to get a job that doesn’t has potential in growing and expanding my capabilities? mmm…..many other factors and elements are involved. When I was in high school, I don’t understand why people are jobless and I was totally not interested with this issue. Hence now, I contributed to the percentage of jobless youth! haha

  2. I am conducting a research for my thesis as part of the requirement for my Bachelor of Economics (Human Resource Economics). The title of this thesis is “Unemployment Among Graduates”.

    In my research, the respondents will include graduates who are not working yet, 3 months after their convocation.

    Any of your friend not working yet, 3 months after their convocation? If yes, can u give me their email address? Cos I need their help to be my respondent in filling up the questionnaire.

    Currently, I faced a severe problem. I can’t get any respondent who are not working yet, 3 months after their convocation. Hopefully you can help me.

    Your co-operation is much appreciated. Your response will be use for the preparation of thesis only and the information will be kept confidential. Thanks…

    1. Hi, Chin..

      I have few close friends who have been graduate and currently still unemployed.
      You can send your survey questionnaire to my yahoo mailbox and I can help you to let them fill in for you.


    2. hi chin,my name is haleem.im also doing hr econ in ums, sabah. read ur article n u r aslo hr econ graduate.how u find about the study…does it imply in ur real life and work after ur graduation.hope to get a reply from u.thanx ya.nice to meet u.

  3. Let me share some of employment experience with the unemployed out there.

    I used to be ashamed to admit that I’ve got only a general degree. But not anymore as I know now that I am on par with the ones with the first class degrees or even those who possess master degrees. This I have come to realize when I ask around, most of my collegues have master degrees.

    I also understand now that having a general degree does not make you less marketable than those who have first class degree. I am not downgrading the emphasis of achieving good qualification but let’s not make it the ultimate factor when you want to find a job. Just because you have got a first class degree you expect that you only deserve to work for the best employers and in the best positions. Well, it does not work anymore, not now.

    My experience has taught me to be humble and to start from the bottom. As a fresh graduate (I know I am not much of a graduate), I worked as a cashier, washing dishes, a lowly clerk and other mundane jobs. But at the same time, I also underwent for short courses and got myself a post-graduate diploma.

    And now, I am at the same level with those who achieved flying colours back in their university days and still are dazed and disilluisoned by their achievement back in the universities that they had not realized that others are overtaking them from all directions.

  4. i am undergraduating a Uk degree, heard of the rumoured-true issue indicating fresh graduates encountering the unemployment problems. myriad types of reasons been mentioned above and being discussed by all walks of life. is really graduates no merit of qualification nowadays? hence, what’s the point of spending so much effort by hammering at the assignements and notes? i just wanna voice out some of the ideas like goverment and privates syndicates should produce more job or other opportunites like sending graduates for training like what is being carried out in singapore. thereofre, graduates will be more appreciated and ameriolated day by day and this is contributed to these particular company too..don give up malaysian, be more far-sighted. we can make it………………..

  5. To Ladylike,
    That is what meant by picky, if really want to expand your capabilities, why dont you try to look for experiences first? It is also one of the way to expand your capabilities.Dont you think so?
    You should test your capabilities before you want to expand it.
    As said by Aisyah ” start from bottom”.

  6. i am 19 in year 2009..i am a diploma 2nd year now..i am not here to request for anyhting..i just want to say your article bout the 5 reason why the fresh graduates are unemployment is very good and very deep into heart..especially the point 3 and 5.. i very agree with that..

  7. Assalam Alaikum.

    The unemployment anywhere in the world is mainly because these jobless graduates refuse to humble themselves and accept any available job offer, even that of pengawal keselamatan. There is plenty of vacancies for the job position of pengawal keselamatan yet no takers in the State of Melaka, Malaysia! The monthly salary of RM 730 is quite good if you are a hardworking person, but if you are extra hardworking and do more Over Time, you can get 1,460 a month! There are many attractive features such as EPF, SOCSO, etc.

    If you are a jobless graduate in the State of Melaka, and interested to work as a pengawal keselamatan, please call me (Mr Rahim Kling) at 013-3710970, or personally meet me at the EPF office (pejabat KWSP), which is in Ayer Keroh. Alternatively, you can meet my colleague Mr Rosli Teh (014-6258659) at our Melaka branch office, which is located in Taman Balqis just opposite the Malim police station.

  8. It is quite true with the given factors contributing to unemployed graduates thesedays, especially the third point. The unemployment issue is a constant concern to the graduates.
    I’m currently undertaking degree in economics and our group is conducting a research on this issue — “Current career might not be the field you were trained in”. Are the factors contributing to unemployment also contributing to my research topic?

  9. i have been jobless for 2mths plus. i believe that many jobs are available bt the salary is a bit lower. i din say that we cant start from bottom but then they should pay the salary that at least we can survive. we do not need to purposely go interview for ‘pengawal keselamatan’. i do nt mean that v are over qualify bt then this job can be filled by others. some company have more than 2 times interview. what they try to test us? the salary offered is rm1.5k. gt commission as well bt can survive wit this amount in kl. bt i really sad cz i dun wan to burden my parents anymore. i m going to take the offer which min pay rm1.8k n is a contract job. as my fren say, we just work and at the same time find for better offer.

    1. Just to start buiding up tabung duit. This is what some people I khow did :

      1. Try getting a job out of state that have hostel and free or subsidy on food. KFC is one of it, some factories too. Save money, save hard while working.
      2. Once you have enough, bought a very, very second hand motorcycle or car (get valid license first) . Keep on saving money
      3. Keep on looking for a better job..keep on attending interviews….keep on enhancing you soft skill
      4. Still working at KFC or similar wise until got a better job.
      5. Or working night shift at 24 hrs KFC or McD and other simple jobs during the day. Slow talk with managers to claim your midnite free meals during breakfast or lunch time. Rental almost zero.

      My advise, always for undergraduates…..Cuti time is always kerja time…..free or got paid, treat them as formal job, keep plenty of records, logbook, photos, get the best result, at the end ask for a formal letter of commendation, that is your JOB EXPERIENCE……..

      eg. developing management software or apps for JKK Masjid or layout project for a new kedai makan or cafe for uncle or relatives. Or self owned cuti sekolah cuci kereta business complete with proffessional SOP and Business Account.

  10. Right, with the rate of graduation, we will have more graduates than we can ever imagine in 30 years time. However, universities are designed to output people to be a university professor, not really focusing on creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovations. university, only train the brain part of our body only. What happen to our hand, feet, mouth etc. they are part of us also. And no strong institution that help the children to flourish. Remember if the Brain can effect the body, the Body can also affect the brain. Look at magnet…

  11. i’ve noticed that many state the lack of quality among fresh graduates as the main reason for the high rate of unemployment. i do agree very much with this point. however many employers are also to blame for this situation. i personally have friends who are willing to learn as they are aware that they lack experience and are merely fresh graduates. but they get turned off by the salary offered. mind you one of them graduated with a 1st class in engineering from a uk university, has a good command of english and was offered rm2000 a month with a five and half days of work per week. he rejected the offer as he felt he was worth more than that. my point is, employers want good quality graduates but they are only willing to pay pittance for it. the salary level has not changed for years. 20 years back an engineering fresh graduate gets 1800 to 2000 a month. it is still the same now whereas the inflation rate has increased tremendously. the logic is simple. u pay peanuts, u get monkeys. and here we have people saying fresh graduates should not be choosy and apply for any position including ‘pengawal keselamatan’. yeah i’ll apply to be a security guard when i graduate with a masters degree in chemical engineering this coming july.

    1. Just try and give a shot….at least for the experience…as long tak dak anak bini or hutang to service immediately…try jerrr.. kerja kat fast food out of state (kut-kut malu kat kawan)..got friend with 1st. class in Pengajian Melayu kerja 5 tahun sebagai kerani agensi insuran before dah jadi Cikgu sekolah terbaik nowadays….. try jer…… Good Luck.

  12. Too true, my friend had a Master in a Science Engineering course (forgot the full title), he obtained it overseas and when he got back, there’s no job opportunities for him. (His field is more research based and there’s not much research centre in M’sia) Anyway, he was itching to be independent so he apply for a job that is not related to his studies at all. The first time he apply he was rejected because he is “overqualified”. The second time he didn’t mention his Master and he got accepted! Talk about irony…

  13. I m a foreigner undergraduate in Marketing Management from UK program. I m looking for opportunities to get a job in Malaysia and continue my Masters, but it seems very difficult for foreigners to be employed due to the Malaysian Law. I urge the Malaysia government to give opportunities at least to foreigners who have skills and those who have completed their courses. They can be a great contribution of Malaysia economy again as Europe and North America. I will be please if some one can guide me how to get jobs with all the skills i m having such as multi-linguist and experiences in Engineering as well.

  14. i am a part five student in engineering and i cant help but to notice that your article is very interesting and helpful.Being a ‘your average student’ ,i am not the sharpest mind in the class but i worked hard to get the jobs done.My primary concern is that everything that i learned throughout my years here would be obsolete when i try to work with the industry.Now i am searching for a way to get plus points by learning the skills needed by the industry but were not taught in the university.

  15. I guest I cannot fully agree with Zul. The statistic he shows is currently obselete and there are some parts he did not touch or forget to touch and also there are few mistakes….. anyways im not done with my own research so I dare not to disclose my findings yet

  16. ‘In English, this means that while the employment growth of services sector is lower compared to manufacturing, it is actually contributing to much higher economic achievement. Get the picture?’ i need some clarification because as far as i’m concerned, you said before that that the employment growth of service is getting higher (9%) as compared to manufacturing (3.1%) why is it then you said it’s lower??

    1. 9% and 3.1% are GDP figures not employment growth. GDP for service sector (9%) is HIGHER than manufacturing.

      On the other hand, the employment growth of service sector is 2.6%, LOWER than the manufacturing (3%).

      Therefore, the statement should be correct.

  17. i have diploma in electronic engineering, but now i am working as Supervisor in Frozen & Perishables Dept, meaning?..I was trained to be a engineer but now I am working in marketing & sales nothing to do with test pen or electrical devices..only doing Sales and make profit for my company…
    if you want to survive in this twisted economic, we got to let go our ambition first,

  18. I have been trying to recruit for the past 3 years with no luck at all.

    My findings:
    1. Poor calibre – 90% of the interviewees cannot communicate (write and converse) in English
    2. Unrealistic expectations – some fresh graduates are asking for above RM3k salary
    3. Poor attitude – The number of no-shows, and late for interviews are appalling

    I still have a Public Relations Assistant vacancy in KL. If anyone is interested, email me.

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