Innovation & Talent

Local unis need to produce talents at ‘critical mass’ of 30%

Mustapa says steps like SL1M have been implemented to increase the employability of graduates.
KUALA LUMPUR — Local universities should gun to produce outstanding talents at a critical mass of 30% of total graduates, from the 10% estimated currently, said International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed. “We have had many examples of talented graduates of local universities first leaving to ply their trade overseas before returning home years later. These proof that our local universities are not lacking in talented graduates.

“My view is very simple, we have many outstanding young people in local universities but what we lack, perhaps, is critical mass. We need to increase that percentage from around 10% to 30%,” Mustapa said at a panel session at the Merdeka Dinner hosted by government agency InvestKL and attended by 300 young talents here last Tuesday. The trade minister was joined by Pemandu Associates chief executive officer Datuk Seri Idris Jala and Federal Territories deputy minister Senator Datuk Loga Bala Mohan. The panel was moderated by BFM founder and chief executive officer Malek Ali.

“Many in this room are graduates of local universities, so to say that local graduates are useless is (incorrect). Employers prefer graduates to be employment ready. Hire today, perform tomorrow, but they have a role to play as well.

“I think, Malaysians given the right exposure, with the environment of many multinational corporations (MNCs) here. I think many can learn quickly and meet MNC expectations, benchmarked against the rest of the world. But it’s very subjective, and an issue that is very difficult to generalise,” the minister added. Mustapa was responding to a question by Malek, who quoted a foreign investor saying that local graduates get productive in 36 months versus the nine to 12 months taken by graduates of its Toronto research centre.

Asked that is needed to get to this “critical mass” of 30%, Pemandu boss Idris Jala said that the country’s education serves to address issues in the education sector from the bottom-up, starting from the formative years. “We found areas of weakness. One, we found that kids who went from primary one all the way up to primary three, by the time they get to standard three, only 60% have mastered literacy at the level we wanted.

“That is why we started with preschools and opened as many as possible. In the past six years, literacy for those from primary one to primary three has has risen to 98% for both numeracy and literacy,” Idris said. The other area of weakness was the command of the English language in Malaysia relative to many other countries.

“We had 70% of 70,000 English teachers who couldn’t pass the Cambridge placement test. So we put them in evening classes with the British Council, and the first cohort has actually begun to make the grade. We have to be very patient with the intervention system that we are putting in place, that over time we will begin to see improvements,” Idris added.

Mustapa concurred, noting that the “lost generation” is reflected in the inability of teachers to lead classrooms. “Teachers are leading this, and when the teachers are not up to par, then there is something wrong somewhere. We had a meeting last week with members of the National Economic Council, and 70% of rural students pass English tests and 80% of urban students do as well.

“Some said it’s probably 10% to 20% and grade inflation is an issue. We want to show the world we are doing well but the reality is otherwise. The quality is appalling in some parts of the country. “I come from a rural area and it’s hard to believe that 70% of rural area (students) can pass English tests. How many of you believe 80% of urban students can pass English tests? This is another issue in changing the mindset and improving standards.

“In (the old) days, an A was an A but now there is a lot of grade inflation. At the end of the day, we are cheating ourselves,” Mustapa said. The trade minister also spoke on concerns about the numbers of unemployed graduates brought up by attendees.

“We already have programmes like SL1M (Skim Latihan 1Malaysia) which aims to increase graduate employability with government- linked companies. The supply is there, but the challenge is not only to provide skills training but creating demand for skilled workers.

“Some finish university and start work as production operators or work at petrol stations, and get frustrated working three to four years in that same position earning RM1,500 a month. “The challenge for the government is creating opportunities so those production operators in Klang Valley and Penang to have career paths. We have to improve the investment climate and make it attractive to investors who will create these paths,” Mustapa said.
Source: Malay Mail