Where we’re getting it wrong about youth employment

OCTOBER 9 — There was once a time where I thought the spiel about “university courses not reflecting industry demand” was a reasonable one.

Then I remembered what universities were supposed to be — bastions of learning, hubs of research and not factories to churn out worker drones.

Supply and demand where jobs are concerned is an unfortunate reality but letting industry dictate the direction of institutes of learning isn’t healthy.

If we were to let corporations dictate higher education, we would no longer have scientists or researchers of our own.

After all, research takes decades to bear fruit and you can’t easily enforce a KPI on scientists: “one breakthrough a year, with five patent submissions.”

This obsession with industry demands is perhaps what adds to the high number of unemployed graduates.

They go to university, are fed pretty stories about graduating and getting a job in their field only to find out there are no jobs in their field, at least not in Malaysia.

There needs to be a change in mindset, I think, for employers and graduates. There are some fields where it’s not necessary to have specific qualifications and graduates might also need to temper their expectations.

Your degree is not useless if your job isn’t directly-related. Finishing a degree is in itself a minor achievement and knowledge for knowledge’s sake should never be considered a waste.

At the same time, the exhortations to unemployed graduates to just be entrepreneurs are ridiculous.

Driving a rideshare isn’t a real job; it was just meant to be a utilisation of excess capacity.

The gig economy isn’t empowering; it’s funded on the vapour of venture capitalism and removing protections from workers while giving employers less accountability.

Opening a business requires actual capital, market knowledge and research as well as a safety buffer of sorts.

We romanticise too much the notion of gambling everything on a venture when tech entrepreneurs like Gates, Dell, Bezos etc were living with their parents.

Sure, everyone can sell but no one really explains the bit that not everyone will buy.

You can see that at the average Pasar Ramadan where nearly half the stallkeepers haven’t gotten the memo that your food needs to actually be good to sell.

Instead, the thinking is that if people are hungry, they won’t care so long as they can buy something to eat.

We have to accept that not everyone is cut out for business ownership and that’s OK.

Romanticising self-employment as a path to riches when the reality is that most businesses fail isn’t helpful.

Not everyone is made for selling and it’s important that economic initiatives take that into account.

Perhaps the way to the future is for degrees to no longer be a requirement for jobs outside of academia.

Trades and skills will no longer be seen as “low-class” for Malaysians and perhaps at school, instead of hours of religious indoctrination, kids will learn computing skills.

As it is, the status quo cannot stand and we can’t keep blaming our kids when it’s the world that has changed while we’ve been lying about the rules all this while.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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