The Case for Investing In Malaysia’s Youth: Tackling Unemployment and Political Apathy

Photograph of Malaysian flag flying in wind amongst blue sky
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Daniel Filippi

A considerable component of sustained economic growth is the consolidation of a capable, efficient and productive young workforce. Youth employment and active economic participation are crucial to a strong economy and inject a sense of faith in a country’s long term sustainability visions and goals.

Systemic and pervasive problems, including a high rate of youth unemployment and rapid urbanisation are hampering Malaysia’s economic and political future and are leading to youth disillusionment towards political institutions. These issues are inextricably linked to one another and feed into the anxieties for the future of Malaysia.

Youth unemployment : graduates and skills mismatch.

At the most conservative estimates, 10.5% of people aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, and the severity of the issue is compounded by the fact that per annum 57,000 of 173,000 tertiary graduates remain unemployed for 6 months or longer. In the wider population, 9.6%, or 204,000 of those unemployed had graduate or tertiary qualifications. This indicates that the problem is pervasive and complex, calling for more than just improved education standards, as would usually be the course of action.

The problem is that there is an apparent difference between the demand and supply of skills - the skills which are sought after by industries aren’t readily available from graduates. A key reason for this ‘skills mismatch’ is the lack of interest or incentive to pursue a degree in a field with greater employment prospects. Going forward, there needs to be a concerted emphasis on labour mobility through technical training and courses through TVET schemes.

Malaysia compares meekly to its regional and global peers in these training schemes, seeing only 6% of secondary students enrolled in TVET schemes whereas Indonesia and Singapore see around 17% and 12% respectively. Malaysia could seek to emulate overseas policies and adapt them to Malaysian frameworks such as the ‘Industry Skills Council’ which invites industry stakeholders and major companies to convene and provide insight into which skills are in demand and what forms of training are most desirable to best suit the needs of the industry.

The government needs to act as an intermediary between the employees and employers - a bridge of communication. By supporting youths with an array of in-demand skills, Malaysia can look to reconcile its youth unemployment problems - ultimately serving to provide a foundation upon which the country can secure long term growth.