Sharper focus needed on technical skills
Greater emphasis needed on soft skills
MULTINATIONALS too have a stake in seeing the Malaysian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) graduate dilemma being resolved.
From computing giant IBM Malaysia and high-tech chip manufacturer Intel Electronics, which have been operating in Malaysia for 50 and 40 years respectively, to storage applications specialist NetApp, a relative newcomer, they all have skin in the game.
They consistently hire Malaysian ICT graduates, both from local and foreign universities, and have invested heavily in them to ensure that they become useful resources for the operations here.
Digital News Asia spoke to these three companies to get a snapshot of what they believe are the challenges surrounding hiring Malaysian graduates, and how they should be addressed.
Suresh Chandra, human resources director, Intel Malaysia
In general, it is relatively easy to hire at the undergraduate level but there is a significant investment required on the part of the employer in providing basic training around soft skills, presentation skills, etc, at the point of hire.
Recruiting at the post-graduate level is much harder especially in specialized fields like PhD’s in electrical engineering, industrial waste and hygiene. The problem is compounded by the increasing global mobility; especially at the level of senior management. This translates to a growing number of talented and skilled top management migrating to perceived greener pastures.
Our primary hiring is in areas that have strong technical disciplines, i.e. engineering and materials science. At this point in time, electronic engineers, and increasingly software engineers, especially senior engineers with more than 10 years of experience, are top on our list.
While it is challenging, we are still able to hire fresh graduates. However, the senior/experienced engineers, especially in R&D and D&D (design and development) areas such as IC Design and Embedded Systems, are the ones we have the most challenge sourcing.
Most fresh graduates are weak in the areas of articulation and communication. While technical skills can be taught, in the areas of communication skills, dealing with people from international and multi-cultural environments and crucial soft skills, there is still much to be desired.
There is also a decline in quality in terms of English proficiency and increasingly in a global environment many meetings and decisions are done across countries with many people participating. In this sense, a strong command of English is critical.
In addition we need graduates who can think out of the box and are unafraid to take on leadership roles.
Universities and colleges should work on intensifying industry-relevant experience and technical competence. The ability to communicate clearly and to speak up and challenge status quo is also a great asset. Much of our academic system is based on a textbook approach and teaching of fundamentals through memorization.
We also need engineers who are creative and who don’t see boundaries in their thought processes.
Local engineers are excellent at execution and following directions, but I am afraid “just” being excellent at execution is not sufficient in the 21st century, and where competing on cost is yesterday’s business value.
Andy Khoo, country manager, NetApp Malaysia
In my opinion, a lot of ICT graduates lack what I like to term "language dexterity."
By this, I mean graduates are unable to articulate and express themselves well when faced with unexpected situations that put them on the spot. For instance, I've asked candidates before, "If I were to ask your best friend to tell me your positive and negative traits about you, what would he or she say about you?"
Many times, candidates are left bamboozled and unable to answer. Their expressions fail them and they are caught out.
For me the ability to express oneself in a tight spot is important as we wear different hats in different situations, and we will need to have different expressions for different scenarios.
Local graduates are also not able to think outside the box. Our education system, derived from the British era, tends to be guided by rigid rules. This is what I call prescription-type education and it emphasizes memorizing rather than open thinking. Whereas in the United States, students are challenged to question, argue, and justify their answers, and this is what is lacking with our graduates.
Additionally, I think there is a disconnect between what the industry needs from the universities and what academia is producing. If education is for societal good, universities must begin to realize that they are a supplier of something the market consumes, just like a company making products for people to consume.
A market-driven approach will ensure that only the best products survive in the face of competition.
Universities therefore should not be judged by how many graduates they produce yearly but rather how marketable their graduates are, how fast they get jobs after graduating, what levels of jobs they get and how much they're paid.
Just as any product produces by a company must pass the scrutiny and be accepted in the marketplace, university graduates too must be accepted in the marketplace. But I wonder how many of our universities have conducted "market studies" to ensure that they produce what the market wants? If not, how will they know if their products -- graduates -- are fit for the market?
Rama Nathan, managing director, IBM Malaysia
The state of ICT graduates here is a chicken and egg situation where a mismatch of specific technical skills sets and the size of the talent pool still exists. I believe it is no different in other parts of the world. We are still playing catch-up and this is likely to continue for years ahead as new jobs get created every day.
Gaps still exist especially in the network operations, risk management, virtualization, software integration and security skill sets among our graduates.
New jobs are being created that never existed before. For instance, we didn't need webmasters or social community managers in the 1980s. Today, that is commonplace.
ICT graduates need to balance their technical skills with other skill such as business, statistics, communications or even anthropology. Today, businesses are all about figuring out how to serve their clients better. And I don't believe the question of foreign graduates versus local graduates dominates the discussion.
As a company, we have partnered with universities to cultivate a legion of bright sparks for the industry. Our agenda is to share our knowledge and expertise to shape minds and talents for a sustainable future. This fits into IBM’s mission of building a better world through smarter planet initiatives.
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