In a recent interview conducted by The Star, college graduates expressed their woes regarding the difficulties of scoring an interview in Malaysia. Even after securing a stable job, a downward trend in Malaysian starting salaries are another gripe that these fresh graduates must contend with.

Lim Yin Yin, 25, is a fresh graduate working in the banking sector. She explained that the positions offered at banks for fresh graduates are mainly sales positions. Despite graduating with first-class honours from a local college, other positions in banking required her to have the relevant working experience.

This catch-22 creates a brutal cycle where fresh graduates can’t get jobs due to inexperience, but they can’t get the experience because these positions are reserved for others who already have experience.

“I tried applying for management trainee programmes, but they are very competitive. The positions are limited too”, she said, adding that she sent 100 applications but only got interview opportunities from four companies.

“My starting salary is RM2,300 per month, as a sales staff in a bank, selling bancassurance products”, says Lim. “The openings at banks are mainly sales positions. This is not really the job I want but I have no other choice”.

According to Bank Negara, with the amounts adjusted for inflation, the starting pay for graduates with a basic degree was RM1,993 in 2010 whereas the amount dropped by RM10 to RM1,983 in 2018.

Despite having a higher than average starting salary, Lim notes that it is still insufficient to make a proper living in the Klang Valley, which sports expensive rentals and a high cost of living

Another fresh graduate, Kalpana Doraisamy, said she has been looking for a job for more than six months. She possesses a degree in human resource management but most human resource positions in Malaysia require some degree of experience. Any positions that are made available for fresh graduates become highly competitive and sought after.

Masters of Overqualification

The grass is not greener for Master’s graduates either. Bank Negara’s Annual Report 2018 tells us that the minimum salary recorded was RM2,923 in 2010 while this figure dropped to RM2,707 in 2018.

In addition, the report showed that the number of diploma and degree holders entering the job market increased by 173,457 people per year (from 2010-2017) on average. Unfortunately, net employment gains in high-skilled jobs stand at only about 98,514 people on average per annum in the same time period.

These statistics are quite telling. It suggests that the Malaysian economy has not made enough high-skilled jobs to make use of the abundance of qualified labourers in the workforce.

Additionally, a study by Khazanah Research Institute also found that 95% of young workers in unskilled jobs and 50% of those in low-skilled manual jobs are over-qualified for these occupations. The unfortunate reality of the situation is that there are not enough jobs in the market that matches with the qualifications of Malaysian graduates, leading to a surplus of overqualified workers.

Malaysian Trades Union Congress Secretary-general J. Solomon said the report showed that Malaysian workers, except for senior executives, are still not being given their due.

“Wage levels are being artificially depressed by employers, and the government mechanism is too weak and unwilling to address this issue”, he said. “There has been a growing wealth and income divide in the country, and this must be addressed by the private and public sectors”.