As Malaysians turn the page on yet another year of Covid-related challenges, wage workers especially newcomers to the labour market may look more to the civil service as a means of landing a secure job amid lingering economic concerns on both the national and global scale.
Fresh graduates have been among the worst hit by the economic turmoil that arose in the wake of Covid-19, with entire countries locked down as governments struggled to keep infections at bay.
Over the past two years, many businesses have shuttered while even those which survive have done so by the skin of their teeth.
And for new graduates venturing into the job market for the first time, things have been tough – starting, first and foremost, with the pay.
The government had pledged to create 500,000 new jobs this year through the JanaKerja scheme, reskilling and upskilling programmes, and apprenticeship opportunities for fresh graduates through the MyStep programme.
As of Nov 30, it had managed to create some 497,000 jobs – over 99% of its target for the year.
Yet the question of salary remains, with some government leaders receiving a backlash for their remarks on the matter.
In April, for instance, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the economy, Mustapa Mohamed, said graduates should be grateful for employment even if the pay is low.
He also said the low wages were due to a weak job market as a result of the economy shrinking 5.6% in 2020.
The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said even the RM2,000 offered by the government through MyStep had been welcomed by fresh grads.
For them, it said, it is the security seen as accompanying such jobs that is the more attractive factor.
“Many unemployed graduates are interested in being employed under MyStep even though it is for the short term and the pay is lower,” MEF president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said.
“This is because graduates see MyStep as the avenue for them to gain experience in government and GLC or GLIC environments. They use MyStep as a stepping stone to move on to permanent civil service jobs later,” he told MalaysiaNow.
While the RM2,000 salary may appear meagre especially for those living in urban areas in the Klang Valley, Syed Hussain said other considerations are also taken into consideration.
Aside from job security, they include competitive salaries, allowances and benefits such as medical benefits which cover the entire family, pensions, housing and car loans, and scholarships for further study.
But at the end of the day, Syed Hussain said, job security remains one of the most important factors despite the rise of other opportunities seen as a way to earn a quick buck such as e-sports and content creation.
“Such activities do not provide a continuous stream of income and make it difficult for long-term commitments, including financial commitments.
“Employment stability is one of the most important factors contributing to interest among the younger generation to join the civil service,” he said, adding that public servants are not likely to be retrenched or dismissed.
According to government statistics, while the number of Malaysians employed increased for the third month in a row in February with 33,000 entering the labour force, the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 24 increased by 0.4% in February to 13.9%, pushing the total number to 347,600 compared to 295,300 in January.
According to Syed Hussain, this and the wage situation for fresh graduates might remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.
He said many employers are not ready to increase wages for their workers as the economy is still not back on track.
He said many employers are also in “survival mode”, a situation compounded by the recent floods which hit Selangor especially hard.
“Malaysians need to understand that the employment market cannot absorb the number of graduates we produce each year,” he said.
“Major recruitment happens mainly due to retirement and the expansion of businesses, but these factors will not create more jobs in the existing economic pie.”
The only way forward, he said, is to bring in more foreign direct investments for new industries to create more employment opportunities for graduates.
But he stressed that the low pay for graduates is likely a temporary phenomenon, adding that things would fall into place once the situation returns to normal.