Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nine ways to ensure our grads get jobs


By Sonia Ramachandran

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysian graduates lack attributes that make them employable, says Higher Education director-general Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi.

"Those days, 'teruk teruk pun orang ambil' (employers will even take bad workers). But now, employers can be choosy.

"This has to do with the growth of the country's economy, as well as that of the world. All that is beyond us but what matters is that regardless of the economic situation, our universities have to produce students of certain attributes," he told the New Sunday Times.

Radin Umar says the Higher Education Ministry has drawn up an instrument called Generic Student Attributes (GSA) to address the problem of unemployable graduates.

He says there are nine basic requirements under the GSA, of which the first two are knowledge of the profession and competency.

"Engineers who cannot analyse engineering problems and translate that into an efficient design are lousy engineers. We don't want that. This is what knowledge of the profession and competency means."
Higher Education director-general Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar
Radin Sohadi says that employers now can be choosy.
Higher Education director-general Prof Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi says that employers now can be choosy.
He says the first two elements are not problems but the other seven requirements are a "major concern".

They are communication skills; critical thinking and problem solving; team skills; entrepreneurship; ethics; ICT; and a positive outlook of life towards lifelong learning.

"Communication skills encompass the ability to communicate verbally, in writing and to be an active listener. There are also sub-elements of communication, which include presentation abilities, writing winning proposals, negotiation abilities and also non-verbal communication abilities, like body language.

"In the military university (National Defence University of Malaysia), they teach students to understand non-verbal communication because it is important to understand the body language of the enemy."

He says students must also be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

"Memorisation is only level one of the learning taxonomy."

On team skills, Radin Umar says this is important as in the real world, people do not work alone.

"You need your friends to make things happen."

He says entrepreneurship is also an important requirement as Malaysia wants to become a high-income economy based on innovation.

"In addition to scientific ability to innovate technically, you must also have business sense. We define innovation here as value creation, which can also come from just the improvement of a process."
On lifelong learning, he says students must know how to acquire skills to move on.

"If a student feels that finishing a degree is enough, that spells trouble. Obtaining a degree is just the beginning. We don't want a complacent student. They must believe in lifelong learning."

To achieve the nine requirements, Radin Umar says the ministry will improve the curriculum and its delivery.

"I want professors and lecturers to bring real-world problems to the classroom. This is what we call student-centred learning.

"If we want to ensure students have these attributes, it has to start with the lecturers."

This, he says, is where the interaction between the academia and industry is crucial.

To train lecturers on how to produce students with the right attributes, the Learning Academy was set up in 2007 at the ministry, says Radin Umar.

"Our target is that every single lecturer should master at least one student-centred learning methodology for them to bring back to their classrooms, apart from the conventional teaching methods, which include lectures and tutorials.

"When we talk about non-conventional methods, we are talking about things like problem-based learning methodology and case solving. For example, why did the cracks in the Middle Ring Road 2 appear in the same way?

"When I used to teach, I would put my students in groups so they work as a team. They have to go out and gather information and so learn how to communicate and convince people. They then have to present their findings, thereby showing their competency in speaking up. Writing reports enhances their competency in writing.

"What is important is that when you bring the real problem to the classroom, you stimulate the thinking process and this what it is all about."