Fighting the War for Jobs with Education

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By Prof. Tan Sri Dato’ Wira Dr. Sharifah Hapsah Shahabudin

Vice Chancellor Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

In the old days, university graduates were assured of a job, particularly in the rapidly expanding public service. When industrial attachment was introduced, many were recruited by companies. Some were even snapped up while in the final year.

But not so now. Graduates, even those on scholarship, are not assured of a job any more. The economic climate is one factor and graduate employability skills another. We need to work on improving both so that joblessness does not become a major problem for the young graduates.

It would appear that our pressing problem now is not rising healthcare costs, extremism and global terrorism, or environmental degradation but insufficient good jobs to go around. In the book The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, a poll of what people are “thinking revealed that over the last thirty years, people have changed from desiring love, money, food, shelter, safety, peace and freedom to wanting a good job for themselves and their children.

The poll also revealed that 3 billion of the 5 billion adults aged 15 and older, informed Gallup they are working or want work. The problem is there are currently only 1.2 billion fulltime formal jobs in the world with a paycheck and 30 plus hours steady work.

Potential societal stress and instability lie with the 1.8 billion people who make up nearly one quarter of the world’s population. Joblessness is a driver of national hopelessness and despair. This in turn causes a decline in Gross National Wellbeing. Jobless people are dangerously unhappy and need more healthcare in general.

Jobs and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are symbiotic. No GDP growth, no job growth. No job growth, no significant GDP growth. Job creation and quality GDP growth will be the leading forces of change for a better world.

The national transformation programme (NTP) to be achieved over the 10th and 11th Malaysian Plan periods together with the new economic model appear to be on the right track for job creation. The vision of a high income nation is about boosting growth, creating high paying jobs and attracting investments, where the ultimate outcome is a better quality of life for the people, where no one is left out and future generations are not compromised.

Education is fundamental to the NTP. It one of the seven National Key Result Areas in the Government Transformation Programme and one of the twelve National Key Economic Areas in the Economic Transformation Programme. It is also vital for the Rural Transformation Programme and the Political Transformation Programme.

School heads and Vice Chancellors must think beyond graduation rates and think of an education that results in good jobs. The majority of jobs are created in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In the United States for example, 99 percent of the 6 million companies have 500 or less employees. To build SMEs we need innovators and entrepreneurs.

Innovators alone are not enough. Innovations will remain on the shelf until chosen by talented entrepreneurs who envision a value and a customer, and then create business models and strategies to realise sales and profits. GDP growth and job creation come from the business model, not just the invention.

Universities must contribute to the national transformation not only by producing graduates appropriate for the new economy as well as new knowledge in support of the national innovation system, but also in creating jobs.

In a research university (RU) such as Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), a culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship or I&E must be nurtured as core academic values. Innovations, particularly technological innovations stimulate entrepreneurial energy in promoting business growth and creating high-paying jobs.

Through I&E universities develop not only engineers, scientists and inventors but also entrepreneurs and a CEO talent pool who will harvest the value of start-ups companies launched by the university and investors, with benefits to participating institutes, faculty and students. More importantly the graduates are imbued with confidence and the spirit to generate ideas and grow them in businesses through innovation and entrepreneurship.

In UKM for example, starting from the first year right through the final year design project, students from all disciplines of study will have experience in bringing a research concept to product and revenue generation. They will also have the opportunity to work with SMEs and to solve real life problems by addressing market needs. At the postgraduate level MBA students work with researchers and their technologies to develop business ideas. The outcome is that students graduate with the ability to grow and launch companies or are competent to improve their firm’s productivity through innovations.

Changing the academic mindset to accept the market oriented entrepreneurship values and culture is not an easy task. However, we must strive to bridge the culture gap and build on the strengths of both, or risk losing more people to cities and countries that are most likely to maximize their innovation, entrepreneurial talents and skills. There are already many cities, some very close to home, that have been able to attract brains and talents to become colossal engines of job creation.

Let us not lose the war for jobs.