Empowering youth through a holistic approach

AUGUST 28 — The youth of Malaysia have a critical role to play in the country's effort to achieve the status of a fully developed nation. Malaysia aims to develop all aspects of the country including national unity, social cohesion, economy, social justice, political stability, and system of governance, quality of life, social and spiritual values, and national pride and confidence.

Youth remains one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Such vulnerability was demonstrated by the impact of Malaysia's recent economic recession particularly on youth. Researchers have voiced that the job market and the needs of the labour market for young Malaysians are different in comparison to twenty years ago. The labour market is now less predictably changing is more rapidly and is more competitive. As a result, some youths face difficulties in finding jobs.

There are huge numbers of youth who lack in skills, experience, and moral ethics. Generally, there is a trend that most organisations prefer to recruit those with experience and with a good track record of moral ethics. The Industries now require youths to have some work experience in addition to the requirement of their skills and abilities to ensure that employers sustain their economic competitiveness. In the current labour market, youths not only need to compete among themselves but also with other less educated candidates with years of work experience. As a result, chances of employment are becoming a growing problem.

Employment in Malaysia is set back by educational and skill mismatches. This usually happens when institutes of learning produce a new workforce that cannot enter the labour market because of the differences in what they perceive is needed in the market and what is needed. The students themselves also tend to underestimate the job market while the job market's preference for experience over qualification tends to aggravate the situation even more. Before the problem mentioned the most important factor is the youth mindset as well. Most of the underachievers or rather school dropouts are lost in this fast-moving world. Along with this, they also carry with them negative personalities such as low self-esteem, lack of motivation, unable to realize their future which is now at stake.

In today's competitive world, entering the workforce requires youth to adapt to new social realities such as:

  1. Adaptation of open society as the mean of globalisation
  2. Ever-changing labour markets which give a new term to "work/job"
  3. Difficulty/complexity and ever-demanding criteria of today's work/job.

The task of preparing young people to enter the labour market requires a sustained effort on several stakeholders concerned with the problem. Parents, educators, guidance counselors, government agencies and department as well as youth leaders all have a role to play in helping to prepare young people for the future.

Employability is about the potential of the individual to obtain fulfilling work. In other words, do youth have the attributes that will make them employable? Theories of employability are especially linked to institutional performance. The institution provides a range of implicit and explicit opportunities to youth which includes job getting knowledge and abilities, such as labour market information, interview techniques, and curriculum vitae writing. Employability is, thus, more about ability than it is about being employed. To summarize employability means developing a range of achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make it more likely you'll get a job and be successful at it. Employers value applicants with good skills, knowledge, ability, and attributes on top of their certification because they can 'add value' to their organization.

There are two major entities which we need to look at despite stakeholders' interest in building high-performance youth:

  1. Youth itself
    • Youth itself
    • Capability to analyse, to critique, to synthesize and lateral thinking
    • Good knowledge of the subject and profession
    • Internal skills such as self-confident, self-reliance, self-management so that they can compete and be successful in their chosen career
    • Able to respond and anticipate change in their total behavior and mindset
    • Initiative and risk-taking
  2. Employer
  • Believe youth should have employability skills ready before entering into the workforce.
  • Understand the relation of skills and world of work and how it is being transformed into the actual work context
  • Youth to be ready for work with clear evidence of job-specific skills
  • Wants someone who can help them deal with change

When we look closely some of the issues emerged related to the surrounding of learning patterns of a student and issues emerge in the learning process itself.

Issues around Goals of student learning perhaps can be classified as:

  • Employability and the development of skills and personal qualities
  • Gaps in student's knowledge, given variation in prior experiences
  • The disparity between theory and practice
  • Fragmented learning on modular programs

At the same time, we can also classify the issues around the learning specification itself such as:

  • Traditional passive transmission approaches foster surface learning
  • The divergence between research and teaching
  • Mass higher education can lead to a sense of anonymity and social isolation and dislocation
  • Poor student motivation
  • Diversity of learner needs
  • Awareness of the need for sensitivity in teaching methods to the subject and institutional context
  • Competitive approaches to learning see as lees appropriate in professional contexts

The lacking or issues emerged brings in new uphill tasks to employability development initiatives whereby it affects tremendously the development of employability attributes, the development of self-promotional and career management skills and willingness to learn and reflect on learning objectives. Employability is about how individuals engage with opportunities and reflect and articulate their skills and experiences which covers three main capabilities:

  • Gaining initial employment
  • Maintaining employment and
  • Obtaining new employment if required

The disparity of youth employment and skills training can be classified in many ways and as a summary here are few main reasons behind it:

  • Lack of interest in youth in completing any particular skills which they have registered
  • Mismatched of employment and skills training obtained
  • No continuity in the program delivered
  • Lack of or no elements of human values and living skills instilled in the training program
  • Funds allocated is not sufficient enough to meet the training or industries demand and objectives
  • Lack of industrial collabouration
  • Selection of trainees to a program is not based on capability, interest, and preference but merely on meeting up the intakes and fulfillment of allocation

Human Capital development will have to be holistic, encompassing the acquisition of:

  • Knowledge and skills or intellectual capital including science and technology
  • Entrepreneurial capabilities and internalization of positive and progressive attitudes
  • Values and ethics through education, training and lifelong learning

The implementation of lifelong learning programs will encourage skills upgrading among all segments of society. Emphasis will also be given to developing human capital that is progressive in thinking and attitude with strong ethics and universal values as espoused by the spirit of New Malaysia.

The use of information technology to obtain information and communicate in international business and commerce has brought about global economic challenges to the world. To succeed in today's competitive global economy, one must be equipped with advanced skills beyond literacy and has prepared itself to face challenges brought on by Knowledge-based or K-economy industries. Given the desire of the country to become a developed nation, Malaysia shall formulate Human Resource Policies that will prepare youth with appropriate training and skills to ensure full utilization and continuous development of human resources which should emphasize on good fundamental values in developing their holistic strength.

The discussion showed to us the difficulties faced by our youth currently and the nation is in need of paradigm shifts to embark on new youth development initiatives. The overall development of youths shall be designed to help them to move forward in life and also to value the importance of success and also to show them how to achieve it. The initiative shall not be classified or considered as skills training alone, but rather uses the holistic approach as the main framework in creating high-value youths. Overall the initiative shall be enabled to change the youth mindset and help them to gain: 

  • Self esteem
  • Good decision making ability
  • Able to choose the right pathway
  • Additional skills which enables to empower their life’s
  • Self-confidence

In totality the youth development initiatives should provide a platform for empowerment in

  • Progression of backward community
  • Socio-Economy growth
  • Social dislocation
  • Personal appearance and development
  • Community awareness
  • Moral and spiritual values
  • Positive contribution to the society and nation
  • Instill patriotism and to preach the principals of Rukun Negara. The backbone of our nations success and unity
  • To understand the history and contribution of our ancestors to the independence of Malaysia
  • To enable the youth to make a good decision in life in terms of his/her economic ability.
  • To create competitive workforce with high level of competency to meet the demanding human resource requirement
  • To create capable and innovative entrepreneurs who will create their own platform for the betterment of future generation

Embarking on four important elements of human life, youth empowerment initiatives shall focus on developing the:

MIND: continues the education process and habits. Provide continuous knowledge and skills by flipping the classroom into a work area.

BODY: Good work ethics which focus on mindset change and work behavior.

HEART: Youths to service their community and to love their society and nation.

SPIRITUAL: With all the focus being met or in place, youths are ready to seek their voice/choice and would also be able to help others to seek theirs. Understand their ancestor's role and contribution to the nation and their community.

The youth population is a valuable asset to this nation, thus it is necessary to develop and equip youth with attitudes, knowledge, and skills we need for our development and enable them to be stronger to face challenges in the future. In this context two issues are important; (i) our system of education may need reorientation towards productive citizens and (ii) our national politics and politician needs reorientation towards creating opportunities for employing educated mass to contribute to the national economy.

Youth everywhere set out in life with a dream, hopes, and aspirations. is Yet, these young men and women often face many challenges in the labour market. If young people are to be given opportunities, then multiple pathways to decent employment are needed. Achieving decent work for young people is a critical element in sustainable development, growth, and welfare for all. There is growing evidence of a global situation in which young people face increasing difficulties when entering the labour force. Without the right foothold from which to start out, youth are less able to make choices that will improve their own job prospects and those of their future dependents. This, in turn, will perpetuate the cycle of insufficient education, low-productivity employment and working poverty from one generation to the next. Therefore, there is an urgency to develop strategies that aimed to give young people a chance to make the most of their productive potential. To conclude, youth development programs must continue to focus on developing the right attitudes and skills to ensure they get employment and contribute to the development of our New Malaysia.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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