This period of uncertainty and risk is undoubtedly putting the capabilities and resilience of both employees and organisations to the test. Staying relevant in today’s fast-changing and highly competitive job market is one. Balancing the need to stay productive and recover from both work and non-work stress is another.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the concept of work, the workplace and the workforce, driven by the fast-rising adoption of technology. Still, technology has been both a blessing and a bane.
For one, digital transformation has empowered the workforce to be more productive and pushed businesses to innovate in order to stay ahead of the curve and competition. On the flipside, it has cast a spotlight on the technological incompetence of society, which has resulted in the glaring skill gaps and talent shortage. If left unchecked, this issue may affect the health of industries across the board.
Over the past few years, graduates have struggled to secure full-time employment amid the widespread pandemic-induced retrenchments and ensuing fierce competition to fill the void. In fact, the Ministry of Human Resources revealed that many Malaysian graduates are turning to the gig economy for part-time jobs to make up for the current lack of job security.
The employer-employee checklist conundrum
The discrepancy between the skills people have today and the ones needed for their future career is growing at an unmatched rate and will worsen if no strategic measures are put in place to address this.
In today’s landscape, having a degree under one’s belt is no longer sufficient to guarantee placement and retention in the workforce. With competition showing no signs of abating, graduates are scrambling to improve their employability — still, with academic performance just one of the many items on every employer’s checklist, how else can future employees equip and future-proof themselves?
It is important for graduates to keep abreast of developments in today’s working world. As such, understanding the hiring criteria and ideal requirements of today’s employers is imperative.
Organisations, for one, are prioritising critical, creative thinking and digital skills. These are skills harnessed through knowledge and practice of new emerging technologies such as analytics, programming and artificial intelligence, which are essential in the current and booming digital economy.
Here, we will explore three key areas that will give today’s graduates the much-needed shot in the arm.
Embrace lifelong learning
As the workforce becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, employees need to embrace a “lifelong learning” approach to constantly equip themselves with the necessary skills to face and rise up to the various challenges of the workforce. Throughout a person’s career, upskilling — or the improvement of one’s skill set — is crucial.
For students to develop lifelong-learning capabilities, universities must provide them with the right environment to foster the habit through a research-intensive learning curriculum. Unfortunately, many of today’s curricula are causing students to remain passive recipients of knowledge.
Then again, a research-based learning environment has proved to be a much better approach in encouraging students to boost their academic knowledge and soft skills as they play a more active role in the learning process. Furthermore, with academic research, students are inspired to explore new ideas, perspectives and arguments in the long run, allowing them to have the knowledge, know-how, attitudes and values to thrive as lifelong learners in their future careers.
Master digital technology
Amid the world’s transition to the post-pandemic era, many organisations have begun introducing hybrid and remote work models as part of their business operations, in line with the growing digital workspace trend.
Still, these new work modes have tweaked, if not overhauled, the baseline of which companies refer to in identifying potential talent. As it is, companies have become more selective in their hiring process, opting for individuals who are more than capable of adopting and adapting to the digital needs of today’s workplace.
For perspective, while the demand for digital skills is on an uptrend, a recent study by JobStreet revealed that the average starting salaries among fresh graduates have dropped, as many of them lack the digital skills necessary to tackle the requirements and challenges of the current competitive market and tough economy.
Under the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint, the government aims to create half a million job opportunities in the digital economy sector by 2025. This is on expectation that the digital sector will contribute a significant 25.5% to the country’s gross domestic product.
With this in mind, universities must prioritise exposure to the digital world by re-examining and future-proofing the programmes offered, focusing not only on the demands of today’s job market but also for the following decades to come.
Experience international exposure
Digitalisation has taken the world by storm. The advancements in technology have paved the way for greater adoption and utilisation of the internet and social media, putting connectivity in overdrive.
In a similar vein, connectivity also means people now have greater opportunity and capacity to spread their wings abroad. Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a provider of services, analytics and insights into the global higher education sector, revealed that six out of 10 employers globally give extra credit to students with international experience.
Graduates who possess international experience tend to have an upper hand in terms of personal growth and professional development, be it throughout their education journey in university or over the course of their internship programme. Hence, it goes without saying that educational institutions with international transfer or exchange programmes as part of their offerings will contribute to the success of graduates in their future careers by driving global innovation and progress.
Professor Rebecca Taylor is pro vice-chancellor (Asean) and CEO of the University of Southampton Malaysia. Her research interests lie in the field of international economics and developments in economics education.