Graduate recruitment: A Letter from Malaysia

Nov 19, 2020 | Sector & policy

The pandemic has impacted the careers of UK-educated Malaysian graduates. Louise Nicol, Founder of Asia Careers Group SDN BHD, highlights the need for relevant support.

I have recently taken up the term VUCA Bomb to describe the state of the world.

At the start of the decade no one could have envisaged the Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous world we now find ourselves trying to navigate. It is as if a bomb has gone off and the usual way of doing things is no longer possible or indeed relevant.

Universities and employers alike have had to reinvent the way they recruit students, with varying degrees of success. One thing for sure is how employers recruit and onboard graduates has changed.

Annual pilgrimage to the UK cancelled

Every year Malaysia would see a mass exodus of leading graduate employers from regional and multinational corporations make their annual pilgrimage to the UK and Australia to recruit Malaysian students studying overseas.

Careers fairs in London, Melbourne and Sydney held in five-star hotels, would attract the best and brightest Malaysian minds back to their home country to embark on their careers with leading brand names both globally and regionally.

Following these events many Malaysian students would emerge with multiple job offers from the Big Four accounting firms and other leading regional and Multinational Companies (MNC).

This year however it was not to be, with the Spring activity in London canceled and Australian boarders still tightly closed to both incoming and outgoing traffic, these events like all other careers and education fairs have had to go virtual.

More worrying is the fact that the numbers of employers at this year’s virtual events are less than 50% of the usual showing, with many graduate recruiters either shelving their graduate schemes and/or opting for ‘just in time’ recruitment.

Challenge for job-hunting Malaysian students

This presents a huge challenge for returning Malaysian students who will be looking to secure jobs before they head back to Malaysia following their studies or alternatively taking advantage of post-study work in the UK following the reinstatement of post-study work visas in 2021.

This is further complicated by the fact that whilst global brands figure on Malaysian students wish list for their dream job, in fact, according to Universum, only one of the top ten most desirable employers in Malaysia is actually a global MNC – in this case Google. Nine out of ten of the most desirable employers to work for are Malaysian, home grown companies with a large Asian footprint.

Asia Careers Group SDN BHD data for the last five years shows that this is increasingly the case, Asian students opting to work for homegrown Asian employers, particularly in China and Malaysia. Whilst there is still a way to go for Asian brands to topple the world domination of Western MNCs, the dawn of the Asian Century is upon us and we will see a meteoric rise of Asian employer brands now and in the future.

In his Letter from Singapore in July 2020, Jonathan Kwan, Executive Director, South East Asian Association of Graduate Employers, said that over 70% of respondents in a survey of Singaporean employers believed that Covid-19 had led to a revolution in graduate recruitment and though there’s still time left before this crisis is over, over 75% are optimistic and believe that recruitment targets in 2021 will be the same, if not higher than today.

Malaysian graduate unemployment crisis

Unfortunately the outlook in Malaysia is not so optimistic. The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) said 75,000 out of 300,000 fresh graduates are expected to be unemployed this year due to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, amounting to a quarter of Malaysian graduates unemployed.

In addition the Malaysian Social Security Organisation (Socso) has mapped graduate and non-graduate jobs. Their study revealed that 63,911 graduates (or 47% of the total sample – 137,087) are in non-graduate occupations.

Government rescue package

The government’s new initiative, the Graduates Reference Hub for Employment and Training (GREaT), will offer services such as jobs matching, reskilling, and upskilling programmes, as well as grants for further education. Over 100 employers support the initiative, with the aim of employing in excess over 20,000 graduates.

For those graduates returning to Malaysia after their studies abroad, there will be a need for country specific careers information advice and guidance to navigate what will be an incredibly challenging labour market.

UK careers support for Malaysian students

Not only that, UK careers professionals may not be familiar with most Malaysian home-grown employers and government schemes available to returning graduates such as STAR and the new GREat initiative.

Up to date labour market information, employer engagement and outreach in the ASEAN region and data on Malaysian graduate destinations, will be vital for UK university careers services to support Malaysian International students into successful careers.

The good news is the signing this month of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, (RCEP). Australia, China, Korea, Japan, New Zealand and ASEAN nations have agreed to form the world’s largest free trade bloc, encompassing nearly a third of all economic activity, in a deal many in Asia are hoping will help hasten a recovery from the shocks of the coronavirus pandemic.

This we hope will bode well for future job prospects of returning graduates as it is expected for Asia to emerge more quickly from the economic impact of the global pandemic than their western counterparts.

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