Teamwork is one of the top three important employability skills.

EMPLOYERS in the country generally feel there is a gap in graduate skills, suggesting that universities do not necessarily provide enough opportunities for students to develop abilities critical to the labour market.

Low proficiency in the English language and lack of soft skills including creativity, communication and critical thinking are among the reasons for unemployed graduates.

The skills gap among graduates, however, is not limited to Malaysia but is a global phenomenon across regions, countries and companies of various sizes.

The QS Global Skills Gap in the 21st Century report suggests that there are “sizable and consistent disparities” between employer expectations and student skills based on insights provided by 11,000 employers and 16,000 students across the world.

It also states that students misidentify the importance of key employability skills.

Jointly produced by QS World University Rankings compilers QS Quacquarelli Symonds and the Institute for Student Employers (ISE), the report examines these global skills gap and identifies specific skills that students over- and under-value.

QS Market Insights manager Dasha Karzunina said: “Conventional wisdom and previous independent research have suggested some mismatch between student and employer expectations, but this report does much to verify — and anatomise—the nature of this mismatch.

“It reveals that the gaps are sizeable and consistent across virtually all skills in all markets, and universities are well-positioned to use this insight to equip their students for the labour market.”

OUT of 15 employability skills (see infographics) that were examined, it is found that employers expressed dissatisfaction with 12 of them in graduate hires’ capabilities.

The report stated, across the globe, the three most desirable employability skills that are sought after by employer respondents are problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills.

However, there is a clear mismatch between the skills needed by the industry and what students believe “employers value most in new recruits”.

Student respondents regard creativity, organisational and problem-solving skills as the three most important abilities. They believe that employers place the highest premium on creativity, which is, in reality, ranked ninth out of 15 important skills by employers.

Problem-solving is the only skill that features on both the student and employer list of top three priorities.

Resilience in dealing with conflict is the skill that showed the biggest gap. It is ranked the seventh most important skill and yet many employers are not satisfied with it.

The study used two factors — importance and satisfaction — to identify deficiencies in skills.

The importance factor is a measure of employers identifying a skill as important or very important. The satisfaction factor measures how many employers are satisfied or very satisfied with the particular skill in the graduate they hired.

One possible reason for the mismatch is that students’ understanding of important skills necessary for entering employment can be shaped by “multiple influencers” such as their university, school counsellors, parents and friends, the media and, to some extent, the potential future employers.

In deciding the skills to prioritise, multiple influencers create confusion.

QS chief executive officer Nunzio Quacquarelli stressed the important role universities play in preparing students for employment.

“It is becoming more and more vital that universities also prepare graduates for the world of work. This means that the development of soft skills, like team-playing and resilience, often becomes as important as the technical skills and knowledge acquired during a degree course. Opportunities for internships, studies abroad, extracurricular activities and active learning can all contribute to the development of these and other skills universities want.”

ISE chief executive officer Stephen Isherwood said: “The pace of change in the workplace is ever increasing, so graduates need to ensure that they are developing the skills and abilities that will not only empower them to land the job of their choice, but also allow them to thrive as their career develops.”

Karzunina added the key to reducing the gap is earlier identification and better communication of priorities between employers, universities and students, as well as more targeted training and internships provided by employers.

To view the report click here.

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