Education system not producing thinking graduates, say experts

KUALA LUMPUR: Graduates emerging from the Malaysian education system fail to meet the expectations of prospective employers due to a lack of critical thinking skills and poor communication.

This has resulted in employers having to provide additional training to fit them into their respective job scopes. Many graduates also have to accept employment that does not correspond with their qualifications.

Malaysian-based education, human resource and recruitment consultants feel that there should be a sound foundation in critical thinking to be incorporated into the education system to prepare future generations for the employment market.

Manpower Staffing Services (M) Sdn Bhd country manager Sam Haggag said there was a distinct gap between what the Malaysian education system is producing and what employers are looking for.

"This has resulted in six out of 10 graduates from Malaysian universities taking as much as six months to find a job. The other 40% take even longer," said Haggag, whose company provides workforce solutions that include recruitment and training.

"Recruitment is a distinct challenge as the universities are churning out graduates who don't have the requisite skills to enter the workforce.

"From the manpower context, we find that seven out of 10 graduates who come to recruitment interviews fail the English [language] competency test set by our clients.

"The lack of proficiency in English limits their ability to communicate beyond the borders of Malaysia and this lowers their confidence and curtails their ability to add value in the workplace," he said in a statement.

Hong Leong Bank chief human resources officer Ramon Chelvarajasingam said many of the new graduates lack the critical thinking skills required to keep up in a world that is constantly changing and becoming increasingly competitive.

"New technologies and methodologies are forcing people to operate beyond their comfort zone.

"In our competitor nations, the young professionals are more advanced in critical thinking, innovation, thinking out of the box and have continuous development initiatives compared within Malaysia," he pointed out.

He added that today, most employers are looking for graduates with a high level of confidence who are exposed to niche areas outside of their academic studies.

"These new graduates won't give you textbook answers, but will, through their answers, display a global mindset and show understanding of moving trends in the world.

"Employers are usually prepared to pay a higher salary to get these 'global associates' onboard," Ramon said.

Prospect Consulting Sdn Bhd director Nina Adlan, who provides advisory services to educational institutions aiming to set up branch campuses in Malaysia, said she has observed 'a disconnect' between what graduates put down on their curriculum vitae and what they are like in reality.

"When we hire, we consider the way graduates converse and portray themselves to be more important than what's in the CV.

"What's the point in having good academic results when they can't communicate, can't conduct a proper conversation and have no confidence?" she said.

Haggag said one reason for the lack of confidence evident in young graduates is that educational institutions are not placing enough focus on equipping undergraduates with skills that will enable them to think out of the box and adapt to the demands of the working world.

"Among the reasons why those emerging from local education system do not meet employers' standards is the system itself.

"It is not dissimilar from that of the UK, which is teacher-centric and focuses on rote learning and swotting and places less emphasis on practical application.

"The system also focuses on individual achievement and less on team performance, so there aren't many opportunities for students to acquire interactive skills.

"It's the same in Malaysia, where the system is biased towards those who do well in exams, which is not necessarily the best way to gauge their employability," he added.

Nina said for Malaysia to produce more employable graduates, all parties involved in education should work together to create a culture that places a high value on critical thinking and creativity to replace the current one which focuses on information transfer and academic results.

An Internet check on the most frequently asked interview questions provides an insight into the "real world" out there with questions such as: What do you look for in a job? Why should we hire you? Define success at work? How do you feel that your education has prepared you for this job? to Why is a manhole cover round?

Nina said the grounding for the future generation to handle these and other questions and to be in a position to handle work situations without having to literally flip through a manual (if there is one), is to lay a strong foundation at the school level for them to be able to come up with strategies and solutions that can be unique and appropriate for each situation.

This, she insisted, would help pave the way to achieve Malaysia's quest to become a developed nation with the necessary manpower that would meet the industries' and the country's requirements. BERNAMA