By Farhan Kamarulzaman
Youth unemployment is not a new thing; the numbers are becoming more and more worrying that we need more than a training approach to solve the issue or even an out-of-the-box approach to reducing its numbers during this Covid-19 era.
Based on statistics, the unemployment rate fell to 4.7 per cent or 745,100 unemployed persons in July 2020, a decline of 28,000 unemployed persons compared to June. Although this figure is lower compared with the 5.3 per cent unemployment rate in May 2020, we should not be comfortable with that.
Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan also said that the number of unemployed individuals could rise to one million due to the expected return around 350,000 fresh graduates and 200,000 Malaysians from abroad.
Undeniably, the government has come out with a lot of noble attempts to mitigate youth unemployment. Yet, we are still trapped in a dead-end that requires more government assistance to reduce it.
For instance, incorporating Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and numerous upskilling and reskilling opportunities for local talents to fit the current job market and applications should not be the only ways to minimise youth unemployment.
Malaysia needs more than that, which means that the government should not just initiate the programmes and stop there to let the youths figure out what to do next.
Instead, more concerted efforts must be made by the government to guide them in obtaining employment with better job security, appropriate incomes and in line with their qualifications.
We are doing a lot, but that does not mean we are getting a lot done. Movement and progress are two different aspects.
The primary factor that needs to be considered here is the difficulty of graduates getting job offers – 41,161 graduates find it difficult to get a job within six months after graduation, based on the 2019 Graduate Tracking Report.
It is a bitter truth that most youths are less confident about their future, and have begun to fill the vacancies in the informal sector with precarious job security, poor working conditions, low wages and does not match their qualifications.
Amid this challenging moment induced by the pandemic, the jobs offered cannot compensate for the number of fresh graduates with right academic qualifications, and it has prompted some to seize the opportunities to venture in other sectors, such as the gig economy, which is seen to be risky due to the nature of the job.
Not wanting to downplay the gig economy as it is still an option rather than staying unemployed. Nevertheless, the government should continue to find a solution to the provision of secure employment even if it is difficult to achieve it in the stage of revitalising the economy.
It is pitiful as youths have the burning passion and the appropriate skills that need constant polishing to meet their personal needs, organisational goals effectively, and even inject a sense of faith in the long-term sustainable visions and objectives of the country.
They deserved to have a better future with appropriate and stable jobs, although this Covid-19 crisis made their future gloomier compared to pre-pandemic levels.
But as observed, Covid-19 forced the youths to be desperate for any job opportunities available; as if they are begging for it and hoping the government would do something for the sake of their rice bowl.
Concerning the recent incident involving people attending the open job interview by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in Manjung Perak, it seems that many youths are actively seeking employment and are willing to do anything to secure jobs, especially during this crisis.
Plus, the recent three-digit rise in Covid-19 cases will undoubtedly affect the country’s recovery process and increase people’s fear of the number of job opportunities that will possibly be lesser again this year.
Thus, a nationwide Movement Control Order should not be the alternative as we cannot afford to return to the old practice that will obstruct some ongoing economic activities and ultimately waste our efforts to revitalise the economy. Rakyat would also suffer more if this were to happen as the series of retrenchments, pay-cuts, and reduced employment opportunities will likely occur.
At this point, it might be hard to combat youth unemployment, but our primary focus now is to strive for job creation under all circumstances. This means that if agriculture, for example, is a sustainable way to combat youth unemployment, there should be no delay in realising the effort.
Plus, if there is no extraordinary government action to address youth unemployment, more people will be exposed to financial problems, especially those with numerous or deep financial burdens, such as student loans.
By taking an example of the recent announcement by Citigroup, the company has intended to offer 6,000 jobs and 60,000 training opportunities for youths across the Asia-Pacific region over the next three years to help cushion the impact of Covid-19.
It means that the move is an excellent example for the government to begin cooperating with major private companies to provide youths with a brighter future and better hopes by offering relevant job opportunities.
After all, no matter how much effort we put and concern we have on this issue, combating youth unemployment is not an easy task. But, if we think and act now, it will save millions of youths’ livelihoods.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.