Employable qualities and skills graduates should possess

By Iman Ashraf Aly Aly

As university students, we are expected to get employed once we graduate. Unfortunately, the job market is under immense competition and not all graduates are able to find employment. In fact, the unemployment rate in Malaysia is increasing with a pace never seen before. It jumped from 3.2% at the start of 2015 to 3.5% in early 2016, according to MBS (Monthly Bulletin of Statistics).

Given the increasing number of graduates each year and the fierce competition of the job market, the unemployment problem may continue to escalate and “a survival of the fittest” environment will loom over the entire the job market. To survive, graduates will need personal qualities that will appeal to their employers.

While graduates expect that they have already attained those qualities through university, sadly this is not the case. A university may offer graduates knowledge in their specific fields but it does not teach them, for example, how to solve unexpected problems ensuing in the workplace. The gap between college education and employment needs has been noted in recent years when graduates were not able to meet the needs of their employers.

The personal qualities we are referring to here can also be called employability skills. Christine Overtoom defined employability skills as the enabling, functional abilities that allow graduates to succeed at various levels of employment in the current century.

In 2013, David J. Finch et al. proposed a five-category module that lists the employability skills needed by graduates.

1. Soft-Skills

Examples of soft-skills include interpersonal, written communication, verbal communication and listening skills. Professionalism is also highlighted under this category and identified as one of the leading factors to employment. Students are expected thus to be able to communicate effectively with their colleagues, to understand the nuances of formal writing and to demonstrate oral and listening skills.

2. Problem-Solving Skills

Examples of problem-solving skills are critical and creative thinking abilities as well as leadership and adaptability skills. These are considered the best measurement tool of excellent job performance. With the rapid technological advances and the ever-changing work environment, future employees should be able to critically assess work-related problems, come up with creative solutions, adapt it to the current world changes and lead their organisations to success.

3. Job-Specific Functional Skills

These include job-specific competencies, job-specific technical skills and knowledge of the software. They differ from one profession to another. A doctor, for example, requires a different set of technical know-hows from that of an engineer.

4. Pre-Graduate Experience

Work experience may either come from an in-programme opportunity such as an Internship or an informal work experience such as a part-time job. They send a sign to employers that graduates are ready to work as they are already familiar with the real-world work environment.

5. Academic Reputation

It is visible on three levels: institution, programme and individual. On the institutional level, graduates from reputable institutions will have a higher chance to get employed than graduates from less-reputable ones. The programme-level reputation also plays a part in the employment process. Finally, on the individual level, the CGPA is often used in the organisation’s selection system and might determine whether a graduate gets accepted or not into the organisation.

In Malaysia, while the CGPA may have been the sole indicator of employment opportunities in the past, nowadays employers emphasise that graduates need a lot more than basic academic skills. Several research studies in recent years have asserted such a claim. Therefore, graduates are required to upgrade themselves physically and mentally to be able to withstand the battle for employment in today’s world. ***

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