Resolving The Contradictions Of Graduate Employability

Employability skills are not job specific, but are skills which cut horizontally across all industries and vertically across all jobs from entry level to chief executive officer. (Sherer and Eadie 1987, p.16)“Too many young graduates leave universities without the skills, attitudes, and understanding that are necessary to successfully enter the world of work. The unemployment rates among graduates are the highest in the country. Often jobs are readily available, but these graduates lack what is needed to get and keep jobs. It seems reasonable to expect schools to teach students what they need to succeed in the world of work." (McCoy, 1991, p. 94)

“Employability skills are defined as skills required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions." (DEST 2002a) .This change has created an impact on the nature of work where a high level use of technology is a necessity to compete in the global arena. (Jailani et al, 2006). Hence, a more flexible workforce with advanced technical skills coupled with well developed generic skills such as creative thinking, problem solving and analytical skills, is greatly needed by the employer in industry in order to meet the challenges faced by business. Faced with stiff global competition, an arising concern is that current graduates do not match the needs of business. According to Khir (2006), graduates now are lacking in both technical know- how and generic skills. Competence is the fusion of both domains of specific knowledge and generic skills, so efforts to increase graduates’ competence must cover both areas. This has been highlighted in the Ninth Malaysia Plan (Jailani et al, 2006).

Educational institutions have come under intense pressure to equip students with more than just the academic skills. A number of reports issued by employers have urged universities to make more explicit efforts to develop the ‘key’, ‘core’, ‘transferable’, ‘soft’ , ‘employable’ and/or ‘generic skills’ needed in many types of employment. Therefore it is important for educational institutions to have a working relationship with industry to meet the requirements and needs of the employers. According to Bailey, (Mitchell, 2006), “to succeed in this ever changing, increasingly competitive business environment, organizations demand employees with competencies which will lead to a high return on the employee investment".

1.2 EMPLOYERS PERSPECTIVE

From the employers’ perspective, ‘employability’ seems to refer to ‘work readiness’, that is, possession of the skills, knowledge, attitudes and commercial understanding that will enable new graduates to make productive contributions to organizational objectives soon after commencing employment (Mason, Williams & Cranmer, 2006). Employability skills are those basic skills necessary for getting, keeping, and doing well on a job (Robinson, 2000). Employability skills are generic in nature rather than job specific and cut across all industries, businesses, job levels from the entry-level worker to the senior most position.

According to The Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) review (2001) identified a range of descriptors for the characteristics learners are expected to acquire. These are included in the table below.

Descriptor

Definition

Skills

Skills are commonly understood to refer to an ability to perform a specific task.

Competencies

Competency is used to refer to an observable behaviour performed to a specified level and therefore provides a basis for the assessment of performance.

Attributes, qualities and characteristics

These refer to those capabilities of an individual in most instances although “characteristics" is sometimes used to describe a workplace/job-specific requirement.

It was decided to use the term skill as it was generally used in enterprises where it has a broader definition than other terms in the literature. However, as there was a need to differentiate between technical skills, job specific skills and the more general skills and personal attributes related to employment, the following working definition for the project was developed:

Employability skills are defined by employers as skills required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential, and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions. It should be noted that this definition is broad and encapsulates self-employment as well as the need for on-going skills development as an individual.

1.3 STUDY BACKGROUND

Unemployment of graduates or underemployment of university graduates is a gross waste that no nation can afford. Past studies have focused in identifying the reasons for the large unemployment of graduates. Jobstreet, a Malaysian employment agency conducted a survey of human resource personnel and bosses in 2005, and they reported that the major reasons for unemployment in Malaysia were: -

• Weak English - 56%

• Bad Social Etiquette - 36%

• Demand too much pay - 32%

• Degrees not relevant - 30%

• Fresh graduates too choosy - 23%

• No vacancies - 14%

In Nigeria, Tim Akano, Chief Executive Officer of New Horizon Training Institute, told Business Day, an interview in Lagos, that the high rate of unemployment was because of the lack of appropriate skilled manpower to fill job vacancies. He said there are people changing jobs almost every four months whereas others have been looking for jobs since the last five years. He reasoned that this was so because of the type of skills they have. He pointed out that there was a mismatch between what tertiary institutions produce and what employers need.

Even in UK, it has been reported that there are mismatch’s between what industry needs and what graduates are qualified in. One – in - 12 graduates from courses, including fine arts, drama, dance and music were not in work or further study six months after leaving university (Graeme Paton, Education Editor –3rd July 2008)

As organizations at large continues to focus on gaining competitive edge, adaptation, cost reduction, increased productivity and new markets and/or new products and services. Their choices with regard to recruitment and training are largely being driven by these business strategy decisions. In this environment, there is an increasing requirement for employees to be able to support increased competitiveness, innovation, flexibility and client focus.

Enterprises are increasingly seeking a more highly skilled workforce where the generic and transferrable skills are broadly distributed across the organisation. There has been broad agreement that all young people need a set of personal attributes and skills that will prepare them for both employment and further learning. It is also recognised that the ongoing employability of individuals is dependent on their having a set of relevant skills, as well as a capacity to learn new things.

Recognizing the reality that in today’s world the role of educational institutions can not only be limited to impart knowledge, but also to contribute to maintaining a competitive economy and most important of all, to secure the dream of graduates (getting jobs, becoming socially recognized and successful) come true, it comes as a relief that some higher education institutions of the world (out side of Malaysia) has already begun to identify particular skills and qualities that they wish their own graduates to develop. So they can become more successful in the job market.

“The Career Services in Dublin City University (DCU), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) has taken over “An HEA-funded project", named

“Transferable Skills in Third-Level Modern Languages Curricula". The aim of the project was to identify the transferable skills that are important for undergraduate students to develop during their time in third-level education and to design ways of improving their awareness and acquisition of the skills identified by integrating these skills into Undergraduate curricula. The main findings from this research were: During recruitment two very important factors are the applicants’ enthusiasm for the position and their personality. A range of transferable skills were also identified very important during recruitment. Oral communication, team work, customer service, time management, written communication and the ability to cope with multiple tasks are particularly valued transferable skills. Fluency in a second language was not generally considered an important transferable skill" (Curry, P., Sherry, R., and Tunney, O).

1.4. RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The main objectives of this research are as follows:-

1) To identify relevant employability skills to be possessed by graduates as perceived by employers.

2) To ascertain the extent employers prefers hiring a public university graduates as compared to

a private university graduates.

3) To identify significant gaps in perception between the employers and graduates on employability

4) Propose a solution to the graduate’s employability problem using the TRIZ method

1.5 PROBLEM QUESTIONS

This study attempts to answer the following questions:-

1) What do employers’ think of the employability skills possessed by graduates?

2) What employability skills do graduates deem important

3) Which graduates do employers prefer hiring a public university graduate or a private university

graduate?

4) What is the relationship between the employability skills demanded by

employers and the skills offered by graduates?

5) What is the impact of dependent variable on the independent variable?

1.6 PROBLEM PROPOSITION

With a view of fulfilling the objectives some relevant hypotheses have been formulated for this

study:

A: There is a difference in the preference to hire public university graduates by

employers.

B: There is a difference in the ranking of employability skills between employers and

graduates.

C: Graduates and employers have different perceptions of the employability skills inherent

in graduates.

D: Employers of both genders have different perceptions of how they rate their

employability skills.

1. HA: Achieving Specific degrees/certificates have positive effect on graduates’

employability

2. HA: Being effective in presentation skill has positive effect on graduates’ employability

3. HA: Being effective in analytical/problem solving skill has positive effect on graduates’

employability

4. HA: Educational background (majoring in particular discipline has positive effect on graduates

employability

5. HA: Academic results have positive effect on graduates’ employability

6.HA: Reputation of the institution has positive effect on graduate’s employability

7. HA: Orientation with corporate culture has positive effect on graduates’ employability

1.7 SIGNIFICANCE OF RESEARCH

Realizing that it is far easier to lay accusing fingers on various sectors and organizations around the world who are connected to employability directly and indirectly, this research work stands as an eye opener, to bridging the various gaps and misconceptions as regards Employability and Employability skills as perceived by the Employers, the prospective employees and the Educational body at large who has been vested with the responsibility of churning out graduates.

This research will provide the Educational sector with information as regards what skills employers in the business world are looking out for and shed lights into the aspect of schools curricula that needs to be upgraded amended or scrapped in the view to producing more employment worthy graduates. It will highlight to the Employment sector that to improve business continuity and gain competitive advantage as regards human resources which is the most valuable of all assets an organization can get, they really need to work hand in hand with the Educational sector to enhance and improve graduates with such skills they deem necessary to fit into the Employment sector easily.

1.8 CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

1.9 9- WINDOWS POBLEM-SOLVING CONCEPT

Table 1: The Start of a 9 Windows Diagram

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Employability og graduates

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Table 2: Expanding the 9 Windows Diagram

 

Past

Present

Sub-system

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System

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Employability of graduates

Super-system

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2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 What is graduate employability?

Definitions and models abound on just what graduate employability is and how it might be conceived. Knight and Yorke summarize five common descriptions of ‘employability’: they range from getting a (graduate) job to the outcome of skilful career planning and interview technique (Knight and Yorke, 2006). Most agree that employability has little to do with employment, and by extension, little to do with judging institutional performance (Harvey, n.d.): a widely accepted definition, and the one promoted here is: “the skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to secure and be successful in their chosen occupation to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy" (Yorke, 2004). 

Stephenson’s concept of capability has a strong link to employability: it is the ‘capability’ of becoming become an effective operator in the world (whether in an employment or other social setting): capable people have confidence in their ability to take effective and appropriate action, explain what they are seeking to achieve, live and work effectively with others, and continue to learn from their experiences, both as individuals and in association with others, in a diverse and changing society (Stephenson, 1998). Knight and Yorke’s USEM approach to employability (2004) gels with Stephenson’s sense of capability:

Understanding of subject discipline(s)

Skilful practices in context (the capacity to apply understanding judiciously).

Efficacy beliefs, students’ self-theories and personal qualities – the extent to which students feel

that they might ‘be able to make a difference’ 

Metacognition, encompassing self-awareness regarding the student’s learning; the capacity to reflect on, in and for action; and self-regulation (Knight and Yorke, 2004).

It is generally agreed that employability derives from complex learning, and is a concept of wider range than those of ‘core’ and ‘key’ skills, the transferability’ of which is often too easily assumed (Yorke, 2004).  Harvey clearly asserts that employability is not a ‘product’ but a process of learning, and that their achievement is complex, interconnected, and not a simple matter of ticking off achievement by graduation. Much of the learning, he claims, occurs in the professional context, well after graduation (Harvey, n.d.): “At root, employability is about learning, not least learning how to learn. Employability is not a product but a process of learning for life. It is not about training for a job; rather it is about empowering learners as critical reflective citizens" (Harvey, n.d.). Yorke agrees: Employability is not merely an attribute of the new graduate. It needs to be continuously refreshed throughout a person’s working life" (Yorke, 2004).

2.2 Overview of Employability Malaysia

The Malaysian Government conducted a survey on Malaysian graduates and it was discovered that about 60,000 Malaysian Graduates were unemployed due to a lack of experience, poor English, poor communication skills and because they had pursued studies irrelevant to the market place (Malaysian Today, 2005). The research further mentioned that the typical unemployed graduate was female, mainly from the Malay ethnic group and from the lower income group. Most unemployed graduates had majored in business studies or information technology. A total of 81 percent of the unemployed graduates had attended public universities where the medium of instruction in many courses was the Malay Language. The Ministry of Human Resource recently reported that a large number of graduates are still jobless. According to the report, 70 percent graduates of from public universities and institutions of higher learning are still unemployed. This is in contrast with 26 percent from private institutions of higher learning and 34 percent who are foreign graduates (Suresh, 2006).

It was reported that, generally, Malaysia has a sufficient supply of graduates with technical skills mainly in information, communication and technology (ICT), business, engineering and many other fields. Unfortunately, the demand for these graduates is still low despite the economic growth in the country. The obvious question that arises is what could be the factors leading to the decrease in demand for these graduates? Does this imply that many of the local institutions of higher learning, both public and private, have failed to offer a sufficiently rigorous education to produce the necessary quality in the workforce which the industry requires?

The general consensus among Malaysian employers indicates that Malaysian graduates are well trained in their areas of specialization but unfortunately they lack the ‘soft skills’ (Nurita, Shaharudin, Ainon, 2004). This ‘deficit’ in graduate skills has also been acknowledged by the UK government with respect to its graduates (Dickinson, 2000). Lawrence (2002) adds that America is also experiencing the same problem. Studies of employers have repeatedly stressed the priority which they give to ‘personal transferable skills’ (Dearing Committee, 1997). Employers today are looking for graduates not only with specific skills and knowledge but with the ability to be proactive enough to see and respond to problems. In Malaysia, more employers are searching for graduates who are balanced, with good academic achievement and possessing ‘soft skills’ such as communication skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and the ability to be flexible (Nurita, Shaharudin & Ainon, 2004). These ‘soft skills’ (also known as employability skills) are foundation skills that apply across the board, no matter what job the employee is performing (Lawrence, 2002).

Baxter and Young (1982) have indicated that employers need entry level workers who are dependable and trustworthy, have basic communication, thinking and problem solving skills, and have the desire to learn and advance, the ability to work as part of a team, and possess a proper attitude. These skills have been defined as those needed by today’s students in a report published by the US Department of Labor (2000). The report states that graduates must master employability skills, also called foundation skills, and competencies in order to find meaningful work. Foundation skills are basic skills, thinking skills, and personal qualities, while competencies include resource, interpersonal, information, systems, and technology competencies.

The main aim of this study is to identify those important employability skills possessed by graduates from higher education institutions which are required by employers

What are the major skills required by employers? Are graduates equipped with those skills? Are employers willing to hire graduates who are equipped with some of the major skills identified in the research?

Since there is a growing concern about the employability skills of graduates, this study takes on the challenge to investigate the employability skills possessed by graduating students in higher education institutions and to determine to what extent graduating students would be hired by employers. It is also in the interest of this research to study the extent to which graduates now possess the ‘soft skills’ with which universities have been told to equip their graduates.

During the past few years there have been a substantial number of studies conducted dealing with the employability skills that students must acquire in order to obtain and keep entry level jobs. Most of these studies have analyzed the perceptions of employees concerning the workplace skills they need in order to maintain entry level jobs. Although the information obtained from this research is extremely valuable, it is the perceptions of employers willing to hire these graduates which will provide a better insight into the skills that are now demanded. Most of the relevant studies have been conducted in the US, which is definitely not representative of the entire work place environment. The phenomenon of interest in this research is: Does the student who has successfully completed the requirements of education possess the skills that employers are most in need of?

Competition is a major factor that motivates industry to be more efficient and to employ strategies that will improve production, service and product quality. Because strategies require worker collaboration and teamwork, employers need creative, flexible workers who have a broad range of interpersonal and managerial skills (Mustapha & Abdullah, 2000). Past research revealed that employers looked for certain skills, behaviours and attitudes in their potential employees. Many employers preferred employees who were motivated, possessed basic skills, and had satisfied higher performance standards; who could adapt through the use of creative thinking and problem solving skills, who possessed effective personal management skills, had interpersonal, negotiating and teamwork skills that made them effective work group members, and could influence others to act through leadership skills, and had individual responsibility, self management and integrity (SCANS, 1991).

Employability, the ability of graduates to gain employment appropriate to their educational standard, was the focus of the Dearing Inquiry into higher education (Dearing, 1997). Employability was highlighted as a concern for employers, and was the focus of a major study (Harvey et. al., 1997) that was used to inform the Dearing Inquiry into graduate education. This meant employability became an issue for the providers of graduate education and also an issue for those who would be the prime beneficiaries of being employable, the graduates themselves.

Employability is an issue of direct concern to students. The prime motivation in attending university for the majority of students is not to study a particular subject in depth, but to enhance their employment status (Stewart and Knowles, 2000). Therefore there is a greater need for graduates to develop and enhance their employability skills from time to time.

Employability also means that those possessing the capability to acquire the skills to do the required work may not necessarily be able to do the work immediately and without further training (Cox and King, 2006). Employers are looking for a more flexible, adaptable workforce as they themselves seek to transform their companies into being more flexible and adaptable in response to changing market needs. As quoted in a newspaper article (New Straits Times, 2005), the Human Resources Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Wira Dr Fong Chan Onn highlighted the fact that 30,000 Malaysian graduates had only managed to get casual and temporary work such as being cashiers and restaurant workers because of their poor English proficiency. This factor hinders graduates in becoming better in their jobs thus reducing their chances of brighter career prospects especially in getting jobs that are relevant to their careers.

One Malaysian report (Chang, 2004) claimed that the reason graduates are unemployed is that they do not have the right degree. Some graduates with specific qualifications are already abundant in the market, whereas Engineering and other Science degree graduates are still in high demand. Another reason is that graduates with a degree no longer automatically qualify for getting their first job. Instead, graduates who possess the greatest knowledge and skills in their study domain get hired first. In addition, the business world is becoming very competitive and computerization makes job performance measurement very transparent.

Managers will only want to hire people who can contribute to team success. Proficiency in English, the ability to present ideas, explain issues and problems, to speak up in a constructive manner, to resolve problems, to understand issues and problems faced by companies and to come up with workable solutions to problems are all good communication and interpersonal skills sought after by employers. Therefore employees are expected to contribute from day one of being hired.

3.0 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND DESIGN

3.1 METHODOLOGY

Sources and Collection of data

The data of this study will be collected through questionnaire interview. For the Secondary sources different journals, articles, research publications, and internet etc. has been also reviewed.

Oral survey method whereby respondents will be interviewed Face to Face or over the telephone.

Written method where self administered questionnaires would be distributed to the respondents by hand directly.

Sample frame

The sample frame of this study will include prospective employees (graduates) and employers alike. The stratified probability sampling approach has been selected for the study. The population has been defined as Employers (both Male and Female) who are responsible for acquisition functions for

their respective companies

3.2 Sample Size

Time and budget forced me to look at a sample size that will allow for the data to be statistically acceptable.

Margin of error = Z +-Standard Error

As the research aimed on confirming or refuting my hypothesis, I would like a sample size that will enable me to be 93 percent certain of estimating the true population with probability assumed to be 0.7. as such, the sample size (n) would be approximately equal to

1

(margin of error)x (margin of error)

As I would be comfortable with a little above 10% margin of error, I would require a sample size of about 200 respondents to get statistically accepted resul

3.3 Analytical tool and Data Analysis

Microsoft Excel package would be used for data entry and validation, i and the Statistical Procedure for Social Science Students (SPSS) software would be used to analyze the data. It allows analyzing data about peoples’ opinions, attitudes, and behaviour and also makes difficult analytical task easier and to derive a meaningful conclusion from empirical data. In addition various other statistical techniques of different measures of central tendency would be used too, the result obtained would be incorporated to make a decision.

4.0 CONCLUSION

4.1 Limitations

A minimum of 200 responds would be required for the study

The result (outcome of the research) cannot be predicted.

Some respondent may be unavailable within the study period.

4.2 Delimitations

The companies that would be selected to carry out the study on would vary in terms of products and services rendered and its result would be generalized to Organizations.

The survey would be carried out only on the Organizations that meet up with the set criteria, which are those willing to give relevant information. The questionnaire would be distributed to employees that work full time and part time, in the companies under study.

Some questionnaires would be sent to a consultant to distribute via email in places where the researcher would not be able to go there in person.

Due to the time factor only two week would be given to the respondent to respond to their respective questionnaires

All data would be treated equally and confidentially to avoid any unauthorized usage