Weathering job uncertainty

January 26, 20167:31 am336 views

ACCEPTING lower salaries, taking jobs in less desired posts or fields, working part-time and being thrifty – these are just a few ways young graduates are dealing with the uncertain job market today.

With talk of yet more retrenchments and hiring freezes this year, young job seekers find themselves willing to make sacrifices to secure employment in the current gloomy economic climate.

Painting a less-than-rosy picture of the situation, Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Richard Riot Jaem recently said in a report that retrenchments could go on until next year.

With sliding fuel prices, the oil and gas industry was one of the hardest hit in terms of its job market, with news of Petronas considering a voluntary separation scheme (VSS) for its employees.

British company, BP, had also reportedly announced plans to cut down its global workforce by 5%.

In Malaysia, the situation is also not very promising for now, with the Malaysian Employers Fede­ration (MEF) pointing out that the banking, services and construction sectors were facing challenging times.

MEF executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan admits it is not a good time for the job market, explaining that many companies are not hiring new workers, nor are they replacing employees who have retired or resigned.

He reveals that as of September last year, 560 businesses – out of the 650,000 active registered companies – have retrenched staff.

Young graduates have no choice but to adapt to a more sluggish job market, with most saying they are willing to accept a smaller salary so that they can secure employment.

Some also say they are willing to tweak their job expectations even though they are highly qualified.

A law graduate, who wishes to be known only as Patricia, says despite graduating in July last year, she has yet to secure a job.

“I am not picky! I just haven’t been called for any interviews. Only one company replied to my application, only to say I wasn’t the right fit,” says the 22-year-old.

She adds that she is willing to be a legal clerk as she wants to learn more about her field.

“If it gets too difficult to get a job, I may consider exploring other career options,” Patricia says, adding that she whiles her time away doing chores at home.

Another frustrated highly-qualified graduate is Kasmehra Segaran.

Even with a chemical engineering degree under her belt, the 25-year-old has found it difficult to land a job. It was only recently that she got a job at an infrastructure and services company.

“It took me about six months to get employed. It was quite difficult as most companies were looking for experienced candidates or they were just not hiring,” she says.

Kasmehra also recalls how she diligently went for career fairs and applied to numerous companies.

“It was hard to even get called for an interview,” she adds.

Given the tough job market, postgraduate student Punitha Kumar, 26, says she is willing to lower her salary expectations by about RM400.

“I have been scanning vacancies in Malaysia and Singapore tirelessly and have been sending in applications since the beginning of the month. The response is definitely slow,” she says.

A 26-year-old former copywriter known only as Shoba is also willing to take a pay cut if she does not get any job offers within the next three months.

“Some companies are only offering contract-based positions and a lot are not willing to pay higher salaries,” she says, adding that she is keen to venture into public relations.

She also observes that there are fewer job vacancies being advertised.

Without an income, Shoba says she has had to be more thrifty.

“I try not to go out too much. Shopping trips are a big no-no and I have had to give up my joy – fancy coffee – as well,” she says sadly, as she lists her sacrifices.

While she originally wanted to apply to be a graduate trainee before deciding on a job, Steffi Lim Lih-Ping is now looking to change her plans.

“I am unsure of what I want and I’m open to learn in any field … which is why I was keen to participate in a trainee programme,” says the 23-year-old psychology graduate. She says she will look for positions in human resources or sales soon if no trainee programmes open up.

“My parents have their own business involving electric carts. I might even work for them if I still can’t find a job within the year,” she adds.

Till then, she says, she is relying on an allowance from her parents.

“But I don’t plan to nor want to, for long,” Lim quips.

Some graduates are taking the practical path by opting for a part-time job while waiting for a job offer.

Sharifah Azam, 23, an international communication studies graduate, says she felt pressured to get a job as she had to pay for her education loan, car monthly instalments and insurance policies.

“It’s really not easy for fresh graduates these days.

“I’ve talked to people about some possible job openings at their companies. It may not be what I want, but it will pay the bills,” she says, adding that she was considering taking a job as a receptionist or assistant teacher in a private school.

Even though he is still pursuing his master’s degree, Dennis Lai, 25, is already anxious about securing a job upon graduation.

“There is nothing to guarantee that I will get a job with my master’s degree in English,” says Lai, who works part-time as a private tuition teacher.

“There are jobs being offered… but they come with high expectations and low rewards,” he says.

Lim also laments that the dip in the ringgit has caused the cost of consumer goods to soar, making it harder for unemployed graduates to cope.

Shamsuddin foresees employment opportunities worsening this year compared to last year. However, he urges fresh graduates to remain resilient. He says because of the current economic slowdown, some companies are offering fixed-term contracts as a short term measure to fill headcount.

“Don’t be disheartened if an employer offers you a contract job instead of a permanent position. It is more important to gain necessary work experience as this would give graduates a competitive edge when the economy recovers,” he says.

He explains that contract hiring offered a good “testing ground” for both the employee and employer.

“An employer will be able to see if the worker has potential and may hire them permanently when the economy strengthens. The worker, on the other hand, can see if the job and company is a right fit for the long run,” he says.

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