Youth disillusionment – top neglected risk that would become critical threat

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By Research Analyst at EMIR Research, Amanda Yeo.

Although the Covid-19 outbreak provides ample opportunities for Malaysian companies to move forward on the digitalisation agenda, Malaysian youths continuously remain one of the most vulnerable groups in securing a decent job and voicing out their concerns arising from the outbreak.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2020, “youth disillusionment” is a top neglected risk that would become a critical threat to the world over the next two years.

Therefore, there is an increasing fear that a never-ending outbreak war, a dire economic outlook, an outdated education system, an entrenched climate crisis as well as domestic violence would lead more Malaysian youths to be demotivated in pursuing their life goals and eventually falling into mental illness.

This is especially prominent among current university students, aspiring university graduates and fresh graduates in Malaysia. Due to the travel restrictions and on-and-off lockdown measures, current university students are not able to enjoy campus life like the previous generations. They only could participate in virtual learning and study at home.

The continuous rise of the Covid-19 cases and the second wave of job retrenchment in Malaysia also provide bleak future among aspiring university graduates and fresh graduates. The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) estimated 25 percent or 75,000 potential graduates will have their employment opportunities disrupted, six months after they graduated.

Since more financial allocation is needed to train new hires with no working experience, employers, in general, are not motivated to hire fresh graduates under the current climate.

As many of the politicians and civil servants do not foresee the importance of involving young people in policy decision-making processes, young people’s interests are frequently overlooked in Malaysia’s public policy sphere.

Therefore, the structural problems within Malaysia’s job market continue to be neglected. As Malaysia’s job market comprises mostly semi-skilled and low-skilled jobs, aspiring university graduates and fresh graduates would find challenging in securing a decent job with decent pay during this health crisis. They might have to accept low-paid and short-term jobs for the time being to cope with the continuous rise in living costs.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM)’s Employment Statistics Third Quarter 2020, 62.3 percent are semi-skilled jobs while 13.3 percent are low-skilled jobs.

With the ongoing frustration on the flip-flopping policy responses by the current administration, more and more Malaysian youths became impatient and expressed anger via social media channels.

Also, many Malaysian youths start to feel relatively hopeless on the country’s progress due to ongoing political turmoil.

This is not a good sign for Malaysia as continuous youth disillusionment in the country would challenge fragile national institutions or even destabilise political and economic systems altogether.

As there are relatively lesser social interactions among current university students and aspiring graduates, the prolonged lockdown loneliness might result in higher rates of depression and anxiety. The level of self-esteem among fresh graduates might be at its lowest point when they are still struggling to find a job during the outbreak.

Although Budget 2021 revealed that Skim Jaminan Penjanaan Pekerjaan (JanaKerja), MySTEP (Short-term Employment Programme), apprenticeship programme and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) would provide opportunities for thousands of Malaysian youths to be hired or upgraded with the relevant skillsets, the recent Malaysian Economic and Rakyat Protection Assistance Package (Permai) did not take into full account the catastrophic economic consequences of the 2nd phase of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

As Malaysia’s future rests on the shoulder of the nation’s youth, it is timely for the current administration not to leave vulnerable youths behind. To fully address youth disillusionment in Malaysia, EMIR Research has several policy recommendations for the government to consider:

  1. The ministries of industrial development, rural development, tourism, cultural and environment, and agriculture and fisheries could organise a joint meeting and utilise natural resources advantage of the country to create more green jobs for the benefits of its youths. These ministries also could collaborate with industry players so that the skillsets among Malaysian youths would match the current industry needs;
  2. Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS) could partner with the private sector to develop virtual apprenticeship and internship programmes together where its youths would have the opportunity to acquire the right technical skillsets, but also acquire valuable practical experience and a better understanding on what industries require of them;
  3. The same ministry could also take a lead in organising youth dialogues with youth associations in Malaysia, enabling youth voices to be heard in all levels of government, on company boards and in multilateral organisations. This, in turn, would foster an intergenerational transfer of experience, knowledge and skills, serve as a bridge-builder against societal functions and decrease youth frustration;
  4. Both Ministry of Education (MOE) and MOHE have to invest in education that teaches 21st-century skills including creativity and interpersonal connection for Malaysia to move towards a technology-driven and knowledge-intensive economy; and
  5. The government has to work closely with mental health practitioners, schools and community groups – expanding mental health infrastructure to support Malaysian youths in managing the mental illness problem.

By advocating youth voices into the policymaking process, Malaysia would be able to address youth’s needs effectively and minimise the risk of a lost generation in the post- outbreak world.

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