Navigating the job market: Challenges and advice for the employment ecosystem

  • Mandatory internship may alleviate graduates' work experience shortages
  • Collab with universities, industries & governments can improve graduate employment practices

Navigating the job market: Challenges and advice for the employment ecosystem

Navigating the job market: Challenges and advice for the employment ecosystemIn today's job market, many local graduates face challenges transitioning from graduation to gainful employment. Despite their qualifications, a significant portion experience unemployment or underemployment. 

Let's explore these multifaceted issues and potential solutions.

1. Why do local graduates struggle to find suitable jobs matching their qualifications?

The persistent issue of skills mismatch is a key factor. Many graduates have theoretical knowledge but lack practical skills and real-world experience sought by employers. Additionally, rapid technological advancements often render qualifications obsolete, widening the gap between education and industry needs. 

Limited networking opportunities and inadequate career guidance further compound the problem. Without professional networks or guidance, graduates struggle to navigate the job market and market themselves effectively to employers.

Mandatory internship or apprentice programmes could address the lack of work experience among graduates. Additionally, university programmes should strike a balance between theory and practical experience to better prepare students for the workforce.

2. Over qualifications or under?

Many graduates face the dilemma of being either overqualified or underqualified for available positions. Some possess qualifications that exceed entry-level requirements, while others lack the necessary skills for evolving industry demands.

Overqualified candidates may encounter reluctance from employers concerned about their potential to outgrow roles quickly or demand higher salaries. Conversely, underqualified candidates struggle to compete in a job market favoring specialised skills and experience.

Hence, it is important to seek guidance before pursuing a course is crucial to ensure skills remain relevant upon graduation. Personal interests alone may not guarantee employability. Furthermore, universities should align their curriculum with industry needs to prevent skill mismatches, possibly by involving industry advisors in university boards.

3. Should graduates accept the first job offer?

Accepting the first job offer can offer immediate relief from unemployment pressures, but it's a decision that warrants careful consideration. Graduates must weigh the long-term impact on their career trajectory.

Taking a job unrelated to career goals or interests may lead to dissatisfaction and limit future advancement opportunities. Instead, graduates should evaluate job offers based on alignment with their values, growth potential, and opportunities for skill development.

4. What is the longer-term impact on the economy?

The skills gap among graduates and labor market needs carries significant and far-reaching consequences for both economies and societies.

High levels of graduate unemployment or underemployment not only lead to talent wastage but also hinder innovation and productivity growth. A workforce that remains underutilised or lacks necessary skills can impede economic competitiveness and limit overall growth potential. 

Furthermore, while the gig economy offers tempting employment alternatives with flexible working conditions, it may inadvertently undermine traditional employment opportunities, affecting graduates' long-term employability.

5. What should universities do to ensure greater employability?

Universities must prioritise practical skills and experiential learning and alongside academic knowledge to boost graduate employability. Collaborations with industry partners can infuse real-world perspectives into the curriculum, ensuring graduates are well-prepared for the workforce.

Universities also should plan and strategise their offering of programmes with greater caution and foresight. Instead of just offering popular programmes and courses, they should also offer courses with long term benefits to the students' employability and to the society. This helps prevent oversupply of graduates in certain fields

Additionally, universities should also invest in comprehensive career development services that provide students with guidance on job search strategies, resume writing, and interview preparation. Internship programmes, industry placements, and cooperative education initiatives can also provide valuable hands-on experience and industry connections.

Comprehensive career development services are essential, offering guidance on job search strategies, resume writing, and interview preparation. Internship programmes and cooperative education initiatives provide hands-on experience and industry placements, while collaborations with NGOs like Pikom can offer networking opportunities.

6. What can the government do?

Governments have a role to play in addressing the challenges of graduate employability. Policy interventions such as incentives for industries to offer apprenticeships and vocational training programmes can bridge the gap between education and employment. Investments in emerging industries and technology education ensure graduates have relevant skills.

Governments can also foster entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems to create alternative pathways to employment for graduates. Initiatives such as startup incubators, access to venture capital, and business support services can empower graduates to pursue entrepreneurial ventures and contribute to economic growth.

7. What can NGOs like Pikom do?

NGOs like Pikom can complement government efforts by providing targeted support and resources to enhance graduate employability. This includes skills development workshops, mentorship programmes, and job placement services tailored to the needs of graduates. Collaborations with universities, industry partners, and government agencies can amplify the impact of NGO initiatives and facilitate knowledge sharing and best practices in graduate employment.

8. Is graduates’ (perceived low salary) starting salary a deterrent to employability?

The starting salary offered to graduates can indeed influence their employability, but it's just one factor among many. While competitive pay can attract candidates, other elements like job satisfaction, career growth, and work-life balance also matter. 

Employers should offer competitive salaries along with other benefits, while graduates should consider various factors when evaluating job offers.

9. What are some of the important factors that draw a graduate to a job offer?

  • A higher starting salary can attract graduates, especially those motivated by financial incentives. Companies offering competitive salaries find it easier to attract top talent, especially in high-demand fields.
  • The starting salary reflects the role's perceived value and the candidate's qualifications. Graduates often see higher-paying positions as more prestigious or indicative of the employer's commitment to their talent.
  • For many graduates, securing a job with a competitive starting salary is crucial for achieving financial stability. A higher starting salary alleviates concerns about student loan debt and living expenses, making the job more appealing.
  • Research indicates that employees who feel fairly compensated are more likely to remain satisfied with their jobs and stay with their employers long term. Therefore, offering a competitive starting salary can boost retention rates and reduce turnover costs.

In conclusion, addressing graduate employability challenges demands a collaborative effort among universities, governments, NGOs, and industry stakeholders. Aligning education with industry demands, offering robust career development support, and promoting entrepreneurship and innovation can foster a more inclusive and resilient job market, enabling graduates to thrive and make meaningful contributions to the economy.

Woon Tai Hai is head of PIKOM Research Committee. He is also a past Chairman of the organisation.


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