KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 — Poor English proficiency that moved over 1,000 trainee doctors to drop out is a growing problem in the job market, with one recruiter complaining that as many as seven in 10 applicants are “rejected outright” due to a weak command of the language.
The headhunters said the issue was needlessly hurting the employability of local graduates, many of whom could not secure the jobs they applied for despite meeting or surpassing the academic requirements set by employers.
One recruiter with 15 years’ experience said it was baffling that some graduates lacked even rudimentary command of the language, so much so that conversations were nigh impossible
“The language has been taught in schools since Standard One, but we still come across many Malaysian teenagers/graduates/working adults who can’t properly introduce themselves in English,” recruiter Sanmitha Pillai said.
Sanmitha, who is principal consultant and managing director of recruitment firm San Search (M) Sdn Bhd, said that based on her experience, candidates were often forced to forego jobs they were qualified to perform, simply because of their inability to speak and understand English.
“Classic example is hiring for call-centre agents and during the screening process of a walk-in interview/mass hiring, we used to turn down many fresh graduates because they cannot converse well in English.
“Also, I see this happening when I am doing cold calling to potential candidates for a job opportunity.There have been cases of candidates with good experience that we have to turn down because their English capacity is not up to (our) expectation,” she explained.
On Monday, Malaysian Medical Association Malacca chapter president Prof Dr M. Nachiappan was quoted by The Star daily as saying that poor English proficiency has led over 1,000 medical graduates to quit their ambitions to become doctors.
The issue was severe enough that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak remarked on it, noting on Wednesday that he received anecdotal evidence of high-scoring students failing to gain employment due to their weak mastery of English.
‘Manglish’, text-speak affecting use of conversational English
EPS Consultants Sdn Bhd’s George Yap surmised that the poor level of English proficiency among graduates is probably affected by the proliferation of “Manglish”, a pidgin English comprising a mix of local languages such as Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese.
And while technology can often aid learning, the business development manager of the recruitment agency also suggested that the proliferation of online and text messaging with the rise in smartphone usage has only compounded the problem.
“In my humble opinion, it has gotten worse due to the shorten/ broken English which is used in social media, namely Facebook.
“Many graduates are unable to write or speak full sentences properly. The new generation now ‘speak’ using smartphones which is not actual verbal communication but short form messaging,” he toldMalay Mail Online in an email interview.
Vice-president of human resources at personal concierge service Belazee, Muslim Nazari, said the rarity of graduates with an excellent command of English meant the are always in high demand, and that this demand is never been fully met.
“It has always been a bare minimum requirement for companies, 60-70 per cent of candidates are rejected outright due to their English proficiency,” he said.
“I believe this fault lies at the hand of the educators, this is because they are not adept at assessing the language skills of their graduates because they possibly perform just as poorly,” Muslim added.
Malaysia is a former British territory and Malaysians were once considered adept speakers of English, but the reputation began fading after Malay was made the medium of instruction in national schools.
The choice of the language used in Malaysian schools remains a contentious topic, and is often intertwined with the politics of the day.
In 2003, Putrajaya introduced the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English, but reversed this seven years later due to what critics claim was nationalistic pressure.
The Education Ministry also recently postponed plans to make English a mandatory pass for students sitting for the SPM examination. Shazwan Mustafa Kamal and Boo Su-Lyn | The Malay Mail Online 14 November 2015