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A JALIL Hamid has boldly highlighted the critical questions of employability now and especially in the future (New Sunday Times, Aug 6).

This is a big elephant in the room, together with a sacred bull. They are rarely seen or grabbed by the horns, as they should be, but they are certainly in our midst. For sure, we can’t ignore them! Like it or not, the times are a-changing.

The World Economic Forum has estimated that 44 per cent of today’s jobs will be automated in the next 10 years. It also points out that 60 per cent of students are pursuing careers that will become redundant soon.

These are very disturbing revelations, to not only new and young graduates, but also to the millions of current and future undergraduates in Malaysia and all over the world.

Even now, we have thousands of unemployed university graduates in Malaysia alone. This unhealthy trend points to potential for social unrest in future. So, it is imperative that we introduce reforms now and not wait for possible social upheavals. The future is now! What can we do now to prepare for better employability?

Firstly, we have to establish a high-level task force in the Higher Education Ministry, or preferably, under the prime minister, at the cabinet level, to ascertain the nature and size of the graduate unemployment problems.

This task force should also review all our teaching curricula to ensure that they are relevant.

We can catch up fast by learning from the best practices in the world. We can learn from Finland and other countries that top the international rating lists!

A few local universities have adopted internships with businesses at factories. This practice should be made compulsory in all educational institutions, including secondary schools

Most importantly, our schools and universities should increase the teaching of entrepreneurship, digitalogy, as well as more soft and better communication skills. We should also teach more English and other important languages and definitely, more critical thinking .

At one university I am associated with, we have established an innovation laboratory where students and teachers can learn how to start up businesses and create their own jobs. There should be more of these innovative initiatives in all universities to generate more job opportunities.

For all these private sector initiatives, we hope the 2018 Budget will provide more significant tax and other incentives to promote entrepreneurship and innovation.

Artificial intelligence and automation are the subjects necessary for the future world of change and high technology. But, how many of our universities teach these highly market-demanded subjects to equip our graduates for the real world?

Jalil has given us all a wake-up call.

We need to rise quickly to the dawn of new realities of the marketplace. We all need to get going fast to prepare our graduates at all levels. We cannot afford a soft or sleepy response to the fast-changing market demands for a more prepared graduate to meet the rapidly changing employment demands.

Let’s examine some of the recommendations above and add more in a total review of our education system, to meet the four dimensions to achieve holistic human development, as outlined by the prime minister on Saturday.

They are sustainable development, increased income, higher social mobility and preparing better for future jobs.

He calls it “the drastic change”, and so it is.

But, unless we adopt drastic reforms in our education system, not only in policy, we will face more unemployment prospects and dissatisfaction.

And we all do not want this to happen. So let’s move together in unity to face and overcome the challenges and prospects of structural unemployment.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Chairman, Asli Centre of Public Policy Studies

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