I would like to applaud the government for trying to lower the unemployment rate in the country, as evident in an interview with the Bulletin on September 14 regarding its “All-out effort to bring down unemployment rate”. In these trying times, with major economies seeing various industries grasping at straws to survive, it is comforting to know that our government understands the challenges and are actively coming up with ways to prop up the economy and protect the welfare of its people.
However, I recently spoke with a young person who is currently pursuing her degree at a local university. When asked about her plans for the future, there’s nothing beyond a postgraduate programme. She said she was well aware of the uncertainty in the local market and she’s hoping that a Master’s degree would give her an edge over other jobseekers.
I understand her anxiety over the future. I had a colleague who received her Master’s degree from one of the best universities in the world. She was a government scholar, but upon her return, she was confronted by the harsh reality of the anaemic job market. It took her a long while to land a job, which paid BND200 a month. It was sad to see a bright individual who was good enough to be recognised for her academic achievement to be sent for further studies, yet severely underutilised by the job market.
I wish she was an isolated case but there have been countless graduates in the past decades who struggle in the job market and have taken whatever job offers that came their way. At BND200, my former colleague had to depend on her family for expenses beyond fuel and food.
While I’m grateful to see the government coming up with initiatives to reduce the number of unemployed in the country, I believe the underutilisation of talents is a bigger issue. Had she been the breadwinner of her family, she would have no choice to take on two or three more part-time jobs. While statistics provide us with a glimpse into the state of the economy, they say very little about the quality of the jobs.
My former colleague was technically employed but she made too little to be financially independent. And in the few years she was working, she was so severely underutilised that she walked away from the job without acquiring new skills that would be appealing to her next potential employer.
I believe underneath the unemployment statistics lies a more pressing issue. There are far too many young and educated individuals who are overlooked in the job market because they don’t fit in the mould of what constitutes a capable individual.
If the national vision is to have a strong manpower, perhaps the future manpower should also be a diverse one. Different personalities are necessary to explore new innovations; and it is time to hire not based on the network they’ve already possessed, but the out-of-the-box thinking that is necessary in the increasingly challenging world that we live in.