Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik recently disclosed that public universities are conducting detailed analysis studies, including market studies of academic programmes to be offered, frozen or disposed of, to address the high number of unemployed graduates.

According to findings from the Ministry of Education Malaysia’s Graduate Tracer Study for 2018, nearly 60 percent of first-degree holders and above remained unemployed for a year after graduation.

He said academic programmes offered should also consider the employment and critical needs that had been studied and presented by the Public Service Department, Department of Statistics, Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis, Talentcorp and other organisations.

There is no doubt our universities and Malaysian Qualifications Agency are staffed by experts. But then again, they were the ones that have created this quagmire and will remain so if they dish out more of the same from their ivory tower.

Be that as it may, I wish to offer a different perspective on the issue from my experience of having interviewed thousands of job candidates and recruited hundreds of staff, and in recent years having conducted training for thousands of industry personnel.

The problems are manifold. Firstly, students must be clear on why they choose to study in a university. Many did so because they don’t have to work to support themselves or their families. If the answer is for a better future, then the question is how when they have no idea what work is.

Although there is no guarantee, those studying licensed professions have much greater chances of securing jobs upon graduation. Graduates with general degrees usually apply for whatever vacancy available. But with passion lacking, it is shooting in the dark.

For example, one of the most popular programmes offered is ‘Hospitality and Tourism Management’. How can one manage hospitality or tourism? If the hospitality industry is limited to accommodation, food and beverage, it is already too wide for anyone to master all.

If a student is interested to work in a hotel, then study hotel management and carve out a career in licensed accommodations. However, many popular private accommodations are successfully operated by entrepreneurs with minimal knowledge just by using online booking platforms.

If one is interested to work in a restaurant, then learn culinary arts and pick up skills to work as a chef or manager, eventually become owner of a restaurant or chain. Skilled workers are needed to perform at work whereas knowledge is of little value if available online.

Tourism is a sprawling business overlapping many industries and the major sectors are retail trade, accommodation, food and beverage, passenger transport and entertainment. How can anyone manage all these, let alone a graduate with superficial knowledge?

If it is travel or tours, one needs to specialise. For example, an airline ticketing expert won’t be able to operate a car rental business and vice versa. There is also a big difference between outbound and inbound tours, tour leader and tourist guide, but these were mixed up in a public university.

I was a car rental expert and have set up several rent-a-car firms for large or public listed organisations including foreign-owned. I have always hired staff without car rental experience and given them thorough training.

Once, I tried hiring an experienced manager. But after interviewing the candidate with 20 years’ experience, I realised the staff that I have trained for only two months were more knowledgeable. It was also because I got them to think like a manager from day one, even for the most junior staff.

After about two years, I will leave them to manage the thriving business and I will start another new company, as I received continuous job offers over the past quarter century. And my criteria for hiring staff are good character, communication skill, general knowledge, job experience and academic qualification — in this order.

While real character may emerge during or after probation, communication skill determines whether the candidate was offered a job. What they have studied is irrelevant as their academic knowledge is inconsequential.

In business, mastery of English is crucial as they must learn fast and gain the confidence of clients and colleagues, or customers may disappear with rented cars. Many graduates today cannot think critically or creatively and are weak in interpersonal communication skills.

Unless they work as machine operators, graduates must be able to communicate well with people and show courtesy, but these can be alien to many.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.