Graduates should get smart

Graduates should get smart

AFTER reading a letter regarding the struggles of fresh graduates, I was prompted to offer an insight which may help those in such predicaments.

Many people may be aware of the gap between education and industry but few realise that it can be a wide chasm, especially students with no inkling of what is required at work.

While manual jobs can be evident, office work is not apparent as productivity cannot be measured by the hours spent behind the desk.

There may be no correlation to what was studied with what is required at the workplace. As such, general degrees can be of little value or even work against weak graduates, with many of them remaining unemployed or underemployed.

Many school leavers continue to study just because they do not need to work. Tertiary education can certainly help in a student’s development, but it does not mean they are better than those without.

Career success is determined by continuous learning and not by virtue of having attended a college or university, as what was studied may not be applicable at work, which requires industry-relevant knowledge and skills.

A school leaver with a good SPM result but who has to work usually performs better than graduates in many situations.

The former is willing to work hard and learn fast to prove himself, whereas the latter is more interested to be paid enough to cope with the high cost of living that includes repayments such as study loan.

As such, bright school leavers are in high demand to start off as junior staff, and many carved successful careers by developing their full potential, whereas many graduates are rolling stones without sticking to a particular industry to develop their careers.

In fact, many graduates with general degrees apply for all kinds of jobs in varying industries without knowing what they can contribute. They studied just to get a degree but did not learn to perform well in a job.

On the other hand, students who have developed a passion or at least an interest would pursue professional programmes such as in medicine, accountancy, engineering or law. They are likely to succeed even if they choose a different career.

I had spoken to many undergraduates and fresh graduates while driving taxis between 2000 and 2010, and often asked which local public university they have studied. They would just reply without realising that I could tell straightaway they were graduates from a local public university.

I was no ordinary taxi driver as during this period, I set up a car rental business as general manager, ran a tourism training school as principal, and set up a golf tour company as general manager.

Since the early 1980s, I have interviewed thousands of job applicants and recruited hundreds of staff. I preferred graduates but not once have I bothered to look at their certificates.

In the 1980s when jobs were scarce, walk-in interviews were the norm but I would clear a long line of applicants in no time at all. Interviews were over in a minute if the candidate communicated poorly or displayed undesirable body language.

Good staff were easy to find until the early 1990s but later it started to deteriorate and grew worse in the new millennium. Ironically, many job applicants were graduates but weaker than typical SPM holders of the 1980s.

I studied up to Form 5 and obtained a third grade Malaysian Certificate of Education but could speak and deliver commentaries in English without training, better than trained tourist guides of today. I should know as I was an examiner for tourist guides for a decade.

As to staff recruitment, there are no right or wrong criteria as it is the prerogative of the organisation or interviewer. I have used the same set of criteria for over three decades.

Many people think the five most important criteria are academic qualification, job experience, general knowledge, communication skills and character. Many undergraduates and graduates were shocked when I told them my priority was in the reverse order.

I gave 60% weightage to character and attitude, which are sorely lacking as personal development was not given due importance in our education system.

Rote-learning was used for moral and religious studies. Students could recite the Rukun Negara but few practised the fifth tenet, which is good behaviour or courtesy, as their knowledge was superficial.

I normally asked the simplest questions which most Malaysians have difficulty answering well. For example, I usually asked those with a diploma or degree in tourism to tell me what is tourism, but nearly all remained vague even though they have studied for a few years.

I was least interested in getting the correct answer as I was focused on their reaction to a challenging situation. It was the same when I asked them to describe the work their parents do, as job titles and responsibilities are not the same.

I gave the highest marks to those who were honest to admit they do not know and felt it was time to find out by talking to their parents. Many could not answer and were controlling their anger, while others put on fake smiles. Needless to say, they did not pass my character test.

The second criteria was interpersonal communication skills but limited to speaking during job interviews. English was the lingua franca in the private sector and not much of an issue until the mid-1990s.

Today, many graduates and job applicants not only speak broken English but also Bahasa Malaysia, no thanks to daily practice of chopped up language used for short message service.

Communication is more than active usage of the social media. It starts with communicating within ourselves by thinking deeply, which can be rare for many. We then communicate with others not just information but also our feelings.

The fact that misunderstanding is common and many people get angry for nothing showed that we are poor in communication and character. These two criteria have a weightage of over 80% combined.

Next comes general knowledge, which cannot be picked up overnight or from watching entertainment shows or reading fashion magazines. Fresh graduates should spend a few months travelling with a backpack, if possible overseas and alone.

But many prefer the comfort of a tiny circle of friends, just as they have done in schools and universities. They need to be exposed to the real world and graduate from the University of Life.

Many graduates complained that if they are not offered jobs, they will not gain the experience employers look for. Mediocre graduates will remain in this Catch-22 situation for a long time.

I got my first three jobs by applying without waiting for a vacancy. My focus was working in the service centres of motor companies and I was accepted by Champion Motors, Federal Auto and Tan Chong, with higher pay each time.

After that, I kept receiving invitations to join companies, including the seven travel, tours, training and car rental companies I set up from 1992 to 2008. As I was well-versed in these businesses, I always hired staff without experience.

I spent a lot of time training them and after two years, I would leave and let them run the companies. I have interviewed very experienced applicants and discovered those in the same job for 20 years may only have one month’s experience repeated 240 times.

Lastly, graduates were shocked when I gave the least importance to academic qualifications.


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