Training Jacks of all trades
The Higher Education Ministry aims to produce multi-disciplinary students who are not confined to a certain skill set but able to perform in various fields of employment.
IN a bid to produce more all-rounders, the Higher Education Ministry will be taking on a more flexible approach this year, including encouraging online courses.
The ministry also plans to move towards a more robust accreditation process which will enable students to take up multi-disciplinary programmes from different institutions that will still lead them to a recognised degree.
Higher Education Ministry deputy director-general (private higher education institutions) Prof Datin Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir
“One of the initiatives would be to give credits to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
“Students who take a certain number of MOOCs can be awarded degrees by local universities, provided they spend a certain period of residential time on campus,” the ministry says.
This means that students will be able to obtain a degree from a combination of online courses and time spent on campus.
The ministry says it aims to create multi-disciplinary students who are not bound by a particular skill set but are well-equipped to enter various fields of employment.
“This year, we will also encourage volunteerism among students to enhance their higher education experience.
“We hope this will help sculpt their outlook on society and make them realise that they can make a difference for the betterment of the nation,” it says.
On the growing trend of graduates pursuing jobs unrelated to their area of study, the ministry does not view this as a problem but respects every individual’s right to choose their occupation.
Ministry deputy director-general (public institutions of higher learning) Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir says for many years now, young engineering graduates have found themselves work-ing at financial institutions.
“Such youths are mechanical, electrical and civil engineering graduates. Their software programming abilities appeal to financial institutions. There are many other examples aside from this,” she illustrates.
The ministry also provides assistance where necessary, including through Graduate Employability programmes between the ministry and industry players.
On students who realise they may have chosen the wrong academic field to pursue, the ministry advises them to appeal to their university or institution for a change in their course of study.
“However, this is subject to the availa-bility of places within the respective faculties and may involve the student having to extend the duration of his studies.
“Depending on how far along a student has gone, it may be worthwhile to continue and complete the programme, but they should take subjects from other faculties (as a minor) that may be of interest,” it says.
The ministry also organises a yearly nationwide carnival where the public can meet education and career guidance counsellors to ensure that students and parents are well aware of the programmes offered by various higher learning institutions in Malaysia.
“This initiative is to ensure that students enrol in their programme of choice, thus minimising the chances of them enrolling in the ‘wrong’ academic field of study,” it adds.
Thumping to a new beat
More graduates are trying their hand at jobs unrelated to their field of study, with some “changing lanes” after finding their true calling or gathering courage. This trend is expected to grow with the slower economy dampening opportunities.
“WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?”
This rather common question posed to schoolchildren is sometimes one of the most difficult to answer. Even some grown ups are still having trouble deciding on their career!
But while the reasons may vary, more graduates are taking up positions that are unrelated to what they studied in college or university.
Some equipped with professional qualifications like medicine, law and engineering find themselves pursuing more artistic and entrepreneurial jobs after realising their true passion.
Experts believe that this is not necessarily a bad thing as the skills developed from their studies can be beneficial and applicable in certain jobs.
Such a trend of graduates diverting from their field of study is also expected to grow due to another factor – the poor economy.
Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan acknow-ledges the growing phenomenon of graduates pursuing different fields.
“When the economy was stronger, graduates were privileged to have the option to turn to other professions because oppor-tunities were more plentiful during good times,” he says.
But today, graduates make the same switch, but for a much different reason – because it is not as easy to find an appropriate or suitable job in their field of study,” he says.
Shamsuddin explains that this may cause some graduates to veer off from the expected path to pursue other available careers.
“This was more apparent last year. As for this year, we expect it to be even more common since there are fewer job openings,” he says.
Citing the example of the recent retrenchments in the oil and gas, as well as the aviation sectors, he says those who have been laid off will have to find work in other disciplines.
“The situation is also compounded by the Government’s hiring freeze for civil service positions, shutting 14,000 to 15,000 vacancies,” Shamsuddin adds.
He notes that the private sector has also slowed down in hiring for new positions.
“Last year, about 26,000 people were retrenched across all sectors. We expect more job cuts this year if the economy does not improve,” he says.
The extension of the retirement age – from 55 to 60, with those originally set to retire in 2013 only being able to do so in 2018 – has also contributed to the weak labour market.
“Hence, the rate of replacing jobs is slower,” Shamsuddin explains.
While he admits some employers find it a challenge to accept candidates with qualifications that do not match their requirements, Shamsuddin says other qualities matter as well.
“The ability to communicate well, especially in English, and the right attitude are definitely strong points that employers consider,” he says, adding that new hires can always be trained to perform the duties.
But of course, not all graduates are forced into other professions because of the economy and have chosen to wear different caps based on their free will and interests.
To these people, Shamsuddin says some may even have an advantage over others who have been trained in the field.
“For example, if you have an engineering degree and you get involved in adminis-tration or management, you would tend to be more meticulous in nature,” he says.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer Prof Dr Ruzy Suliza Hashim agrees that there is an increasing number of graduates who are in fields unrelated to their study.
However, she believes it is not necessary for students to be confined to their field of study when they go out into the working world.
“Educators in the country try to develop well-rounded students. We train them so that they can do things beyond what they learnt in university.
“We want to develop students who are not just armed with degrees, but also have other skills that let them excel beyond their field of study so that they are more marketable,” she says.
Dr Ruzy Suliza, who teaches English literature, says many of her students do not end up becoming literature teachers because they have acquired skills that are transferable to other jobs.
She says some of her students work in human resources, or as journalists, event organisers and script writers.
“Anyone can obtain university books and read its contents. But what lecturers do is not only confined to the books, they equip students with the ability to think,” she points out.
Dr Ruzy Suliza shares a personal example: her son is about to graduate in Islamic finance but wants to work in social welfare.
“Hence, such a phenomenon is not unusual. It is typical of young people. If you focus on a narrow job market, there is a higher risk of being unemployed,” she says.
An education counsellor who wishes to be known only as Gijay, also notices that it is becoming more common for graduates to take up other jobs which differ from their course of study.
“Some students take up certain courses due to parental and peer pressure. Some youths take up medicine because their parents are doctors, among other examples.
“When they find it is not their cup of tea, they then push aside their degree and pursue their true passion.
“Such pressure from parents and friends is still one of the main problems faced by students in career decisions,” he says.
Nonetheless, Gijay also believes there is a silver lining in switching career paths, saying that all is not lost.
“Of course, you cannot gain back the time lost. But you can take advantage of the experience you have gained.
“For example, my training is in human resources, and when I went into banking, I came equipped with enhanced marketing skills from my experience in dealing with people,” says Gijay, who now guides students into making study choices.
He says there is a need for students to go through career and personality tests to help them learn more about themselves.
“Such efforts should begin in school during a student’s formative years. Schools should help them make decisions based on their passion and strengths.
“In this sense, school counsellors should play a more prominent role. Not only should they help with personal problems, they should also go beyond these issues and guide them to choose a suitable career,” Gijay adds.
But even if graduates find themselves on the wrong path, “it is not the end of the world”, says Utar research, development and commercialisation vice-president Prof Dr Lee Sze Wei.
“Some students end up in ill-suited courses after being influenced by friends and family. It happens.
“But even if they have completed their degree and realise they are on the wrong track, there are other options,” he says, adding that those with the time and means could consider pursuing a second degree.
Dr Lee says he knows students in science and technology courses who switched streams and excelled.
“One student from a science-based course took up political science and did really well,” he says.
Dr Lee advises students to be guided by their interests and strengths and to seek help from counsellors if they are unsure.
“The more feedback you get, the better. Utar has support services to help students and potential students.
“Parents should also always ask what their children want and avoid putting too much pressure on them,” he says.
Grey skies loom overhead
Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan cuts to the chase:
• Retrenchments in the oil and gas, and aviation sectors.
• Some 26,000 people retrenched last year. More job cuts this year if the economy does not improve.
• Hiring freeze for civil service positions closed off over 14,000 vacancies.
Opting for what they didn't study for - and it's a good trend
More graduates are now working in sectors that are unrelated to their field of study, says the Malaysian Employers Federation.
This, according to executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, was more apparent last year and would be more common this year as there are fewer job openings.
Even some with medical, law and engineering degrees are pursuing more artistic and entrepreneurial jobs.
Experts said this may not be a bad trend, pointing out that skills developed from their studies could be beneficial and applicable in most other fields.
While some employers were hesitant to accept candidates with degrees that did not match their requirement, Shamsuddin said factors like the ability to communicate in English and having the right attitude were strengths as well.
In fact, some of these candidates may even be better than those trained in a specific field.
Shamsuddin gave an example of someone with an engineering degree but working in an administration or management position who was likely to be more meticulous in nature and better suited for the job.
The Higher Education Ministry will take on a more flexible approach this year, including encouraging online courses, to produce more all-rounder candidates for the job market.
The ministry also plans to move towards a more robust accreditation process enabling students to take up multi-disciplinary programmes from different institutions that will still lead to a mutually recognised degree.
“One of the initiatives would be to give credits to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Students who take a certain number of MOOCs can be awarded degrees by local universities, provided they spend a certain period of residential time on campus,” the ministry said.
This means students will be able to obtain a degree from a combination of online courses and time spent on campus.
The ministry said it aimed at creating multi-disciplinary students in the long run, not bound by a particular skill set but well-equipped to enter various fields of employment.