Graduating to work

A blueprint has been drawn up to create jobs and the workers required to fill them.

GRADUATE unemployment is a persistent problem varying only in degree over the years. For instance, studies show a sizeable proportion of the 200,000 graduates coming into the job market annually in recent years cannot find jobs or find them soon enough. In the recession of the mid-1980s graduate unemployment exceeded seven  per cent. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown,  although the problem was worrying,  it was not as bad as the mid-1980s and 1997-98 economic slowdown. Nevertheless, the government has not taken any chances and there have been initiatives on a regular basis to alleviate the problem. The latest is the Graduate Employability Blueprint (EPB) and its attendant task force as announced under the 2013 Budget and due to be launched in December.The government’s concern over local hiring capacities has been heightened by the global trend of rising youth unemployment, particularly in developed economies. In Europe and elsewhere in the West, there is already talk of a “lost generation” of young people whose prospects may be gone for good. Studies have indicated a correlation between graduate unemployment and economic structural adjustment as the economy transforms from, for example, mining and agriculture to manufacturing in the mid-1980s — in short, when there is a severe mismatch between skills learned and skills sought by employers. The problem has also been more about soft skills than grades. One shortcoming of new local graduates is said to be their inability to communicate effectively in English. This is partly blamed on the education system that has not given enough emphasis on English language competency, an important skill. Of course, the fresh graduate’s lack of exposure, resulting in less than attractive inter-personal skills, appearance and body language, has impaired his marketability.

Overcoming all these deficiencies has been a constant target of official policies. This has not changed as manifest in the latest endeavour by the ministry to launch programmes which would improve the individual’s job prospects. Mentioned were the Student Entrepreneurship and Employability Programme and the Students’ Development Programme. The former is important because it makes for an important switch from the usual expectations of graduating students. No longer is employment the necessary way ahead. Instead, they will be given the chance to become entrepreneurs and thus self-employed. When they succeed the nation will have gained smart risk-takers so much needed to build the modern, innovation economy. However, it is not unexpected that many young graduates will simply have to work for a living. They are no less important. The inter-departmental task force will be tasked with tailoring the needs of the market to the output of our higher educational establishments.

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