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INTRODUCTION Todays economic trend in Malaysia is based on worldwide demand such as

globalization, capital flows, and stock exchange. Thus, changes are frequent and continuous at any workplace. As a result, employers demand the need for highly-skilled employees among graduates that could adapt with the changes and contribute to the success and performance of their organizations. However, Malaysian graduates find it difficult to seek employment upon graduation as they lack employability skills. Thus, there is a dire need to establish employability skills among Malaysians university undergraduates. The purpose of this report is to identify the important employability skills or soft skills required by employers from graduates of higher education institutions in Malaysia. It will be done through literature review based on researches and studies concerning employers expectations and perceptions of employability skills among graduates. Furthermore, this report will also include some suggestions for future graduates, government bodies or educational institutions in Malaysia to overcome the problems of employability skills or soft skills among future graduates and ensure that they are equipped with the expected employability skills. 2.0 SKILLS THAT EMPLOYERS LOOK FOR IN GRADUATES Various papers have present findings of employability skills expected by Malaysian employers when hiring new graduates. Employability skills, also known as job readiness skills are needed by graduates to fulfill the needs of many different occupations (Latisha & Surina, 2010). In a study by Ab. Rahim, Shamsiah and Ivan (2007), data collected showed various employability skills that were repeatedly mentioned by many employers. Among them were communication skills, interpersonal, personality skills, computer literacy, logical and analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and strategic thinking abilities. Malaysian employers are searching for graduates with good academic achievement and possessing soft skills such as communication skills, problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and the ability to be flexible (Singh & Singh, 2008).

There are two types of skills demanded by employer from graduates, hard skills and soft skills (Kahirol, Nor Lisa & Khairul, 2010). Hard skills are specific and teachable abilities

that may be required in a job. These skills include typing, software applications, ability to operate machinery, proficiency in foreign language and others. In a study by Singh & Singh (2008), a survey was done regarding the perception of employers and graduates on employability skills. Among them are communication skills, English language proficiency, ICT skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork skills, problem solving skills, adaptability skills, risktaking skills, creativity skills and others. According to Kahirol, Nor Lisa & Khairul (2010), the soft skills that most employers are looking for are interpersonal skills, communication skills, and technology skills. In this report however, the focus will be on skills such as interpersonal skills, communication skills, technology skills, problem solving skills, and critical thinking skills. 2.1 Interpersonal skills Interpersonal skills are the daily life skills used to communicate and interact with confidence, and also the ability to listen and understand other people (http://www.skillsyouneed.co.uk). Interpersonal skills help individuals to work effectively with different people (http://www.graduan.com.my). According to Latisha & Surina (2010), interpersonal skills include loyalty, commitment, honesty, integrity, enthusiasm, reliability, common sense, self-esteem, sense of humor, motivation, adaptability, ability to deal with pressure and others. Employees with good interpersonal skills will also be able to do the negotiation, interactions, and communications for their organisations (Kahirol, Nor Lisa & Khairul, 2010). In todays working world, interpersonal skills are essential for the survival as employers are looking for vital interpersonal skills in graduates. However, the interpersonal skills among graduates are not up to the employers expectations. This has been shown by various studies conducted regarding employability skills among graduates. The Minister of Human Resource (2006) also supported this statement by saying that most graduates do not interact actively when working in a team and are less committed to their work.

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Technology skills

Technology skills contribute to the effective execution of tasks in workplaces. Due to the trend in technology, operations and work application rely on computers to ensure smooth working processes. This leads to the needs for employees with technology skills. A case study conducted by the National Research Institute for Higher Education found that employers require their employees to have good knowledge in ICT (IPPTN, 2007). Among the technology skills required by employers are the knowledge of using the internet, word processing, email, spreadsheet application, and handling presentations (http://www.skillsyouneed.co.uk). According to Malaysian Employers Federation, MEF (2008), employees with technology skills should be able to use computer for information gathering, information processing, communication, presentation of information, and word processing. In the globalization era, every organisations are dealing with information without boundaries by implementing internet usage to improve business transactions (Kahirol, Nor Lisa & Khairul, 2010). As a result, employees with technological skills are required by employers to move along with the fast-moving computer based technology. Todays graduates are mostly quite competent in the basic ICT skills. However, in a study by Ramakrishnan and Norizan (2011) stated that most ICT graduates agreed that their studies too much on theories. They also stated that they need to explore and get to know new information on the latest happening in the market related to ICT. 2.3 Communication skills Communication skill is one of the top five most desired skills within the corporate sector (The Star, 10 April, 2011). In a study by Rahmah, Ishak & Lai (2011), it was also stated that the highest rating criteria from employers perception regarding employability skills is communication skills. Communication skills refer to an individuals ability to effectively communicate with clients, colleagues, subordinates, and supervisors in professional manner. (http://www.communicationskills.co.in). Individuals with good communication skills should be able to communicate well in English (Latisha & Surina, 2010). This is because the current global working environments require English as the main communication medium (Kahirol, Nor Lisa & Khairul, 2010).

A research by Wan Irham, Shafinaz & Azhari (2006) also stated that employers look for candidates that are proficient in using English for presentations, writing reports, and persuasive skills. However, most graduates are unemployed due to their weakness in communication skills, especially English. A research by IPPTN discovered that graduates weakness in English language proficiency and communication skills are the main reason for their unemployment (Rahmah, Ishak & Lai, 2011). According to the executive director of the MEF, the main complaint from employers was the standard of English among graduates. It was also revealed that an average of six out of ten Malaysian graduates failed their interviews because they could not communicate effectively in English (The Star, 10 April, 2011). 2.4 Problem solving skills Employers are also looking for graduates with problem solving skills. This is proven in a study by Singh & Singh (2008) on the perception of employers concerning the employability skills needed in the job market. They also added that advanced technical skills coupled with well developed generic skills are greatly needed by the employer to meet the challenges faced by business. These generic skills include creative thinking, problem solving and analytical skills. According to Norshima (2011), problem solving skills encouraged individuals tackle problems systematically, working toward solutions and learning from the process. Individuals with this skill will be able to identify problems, gathers facts and information in finding the solution, finds effective solutions, and solves problems without assistance from others (Singh & Singh, 2008). Other examples of problem solving skills are researching for information, analyzing, assessing options, proposing solutions, and thinking sequentially while synthesising information (http://careers.monash.edu.au).

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Critical Thinking skills

Thinking skills is one of the soft skills that employers look for newly employed graduates (MEF, 2008). The importance of critical thinking strategies in employment were highly rated by both graduates and employers (Norshima, 2011). Critical thinking skills are the ability to think, reason, and apply problem solving strategies in situations where the problems and solutions are clearly evident (Novient, 2011). These situations required critical and innovative thinking to achieve the desired outcome. An individual that think critically, act logically and able to evaluate situation to make decision and solve problems is a valuable asset for an organisation. Critical thinking skills like planning and organising ensure that the job get done and done correctly. According to MEF (2008), critical thinking skills involve analytical ability, generating critical and creative ideas, and produces high quality work with minimal errors. Creative thinkers are valuable to employer because they can come up with new ways of doing things. These, as a result, add value to the work environment and able them to serve customers more efficiently. However, in a research by Norshima (2011) shows that graduates rated themselves low in critical thinking skills and strategies. This indicate that they are weak in micro thinking strategies needed to perform more difficult, complex and holistic thinking strategies. 3.0 SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT Reviews of various studies concerning the employability skills of graduates indicate their strength and weakness. Thus, there are areas that need to be improved to ensure the employability of graduates in the future. Many researchers have offered recommendations for improving future graduates employability skills. These recommendations are itemised below by Singh & Singh (2008), listed by the groups which include policymakers, schools, universities administrators, teachers, educators, employers, and graduates.

3.1

Policymakers

The government or policymakers can help to improve future graduates employability skills by introducing new policies that are in favor of instilling soft skills and improving employability skills among undergraduates and students. First of all, it is suggested that all funded government universities and schools include components for teaching employability skills. More government resources should be directed toward engaging the participation of the private sector in providing learning opportunities for students at worksites. Furthermore, a new national assessment system could be established, permitting educational institutions to certify the levels of employability competencies achieved by their students. In addition, it should be established that every student should complete school after possessing sufficient employability skills to earn a decent living. 3.2 Higher Learning Institutions In order to improve employability skills among graduates, it is suggested that local higher learning institutions continually review their curriculum so that it is more student centered and job market relevant. Traditional modes of learning and examination such as rote learning should also be replaced with alternative methods of teaching and assessments. Employability skills or soft skills could be introduced and embedded in the teaching and learning processes, co-curricular activities and through campus life of undergraduates. More effort should be made to improve the communication skills of graduates especially in English language. It is suggested that an undergraduate should complete tertiary education after achieving sufficient command of spoken and written English. 3.3 Schools Schools could play their part in producing future employees with employability or soft skills by having more career awareness activities and programs. During these activities and programs, they could invite employers from the local community to inform the students about skills that they are looking for. These employer-school interactions could be made into an annual activity for the schools involved. In addition, school managements could include the development of employability skills among their explicitly stated goals. Lastly, they could encourage the use of performance assessments

and use the information obtained to develop their students employability profiles according to future employers perception. 3.4 Teachers and Educators Teachers and educators could constantly remind their students that employers value basic, higher-order, and affective employability skills even more than job specific technical skills. It is also suggested that they adapt instructional teaching strategies such as role playing, simulation, problem solving exercises, and group discussion with students. The use of lectures and reward structures should be drawn to a minimum rate. Thus, teachers and educators could improve their teaching methods by participating in professional development activities that emphasize methods to teach employability skills. Furthermore, teachers and educators could help their students to build their employability profiles or portfolios that provide a more accurate picture of their command of the skills and traits that employer look for. 3.5 Employers It is suggested that employers collaborate with local educational institutions to provide learning experiences and foster students development of employability skills. They could stress to these institutions the importance of instilling employability skills in their students. Companies should focus on competency-based performance evaluation systems emphasizing on communication, self-confidence and creativity and innovativeness among their graduates employees, enabling them to achieve exemplary performance. Lastly, internal training and development programs in companies should be designed and implemented effectively to equip their employees with communication skills, self-confidence, creativity and innovativeness and other affective employability skills. 3.6 Students and Undergraduates Students and undergraduates equip themselves with employability skills by being more active in improving their communication skills, especially in English. They could get involved in project work assignments using English language as the medium of oral and written communication. This will help to improve their critical thinking

skills and interpersonal skills by boosting their confidence, positive self-image as well as creativity and innovativeness. Lastly, they should have more positive attitude in the classroom when teachers or lecturers tried to introduce soft skills through new teaching and learning processes. 4.0 CONCLUSION Employers in Malaysia are looking for graduate employees that are equipped with employability skills, especially soft skills. These include interpersonal skills, communication skills, technology skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking skill, and others. However, Malaysian graduates find it difficult to seek employment upon graduation as they lack soft skills that are much valued by employers. One of the main reason for Malaysian graduates unemployment is their weakness in English language. This involves their command in English for both spoken and written communication. Furthermore, employers found that most graduates are not competent in interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and critical thinking skills. Some suggestions were made for the government, educational institutes, educators, employers and students to overcome the problems and ensure that the future graduates are equipped with the expected employability skills. To conclude, actions to improve on employability skills or soft skills of graduates are vital to ensure their employability in the future. (2327 words)

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REFERENCES 8

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2. http://www.skillsyouneed.co.uk/interpersonal_skills.html 3. http://www.communicationskills.co.in/definition-of-communication-skills.htm 4. http://careers.monash.edu.au/students-grads/employability-skills.html

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