Industry players warn that job mismatch problems among local graduates can affect productivity and make it difficult for Malaysia to find high-skilled workers if the matter is not taken in hand.
Human Resources Minister M Saravanan recently said that such problems were a critical issue faced by first-generation graduates.
First-generation graduates comprise those who are the first in their families to complete their higher education.
Speaking in Parliament, Saravanan said the government was working to raise awareness among parents, especially first-generation graduates, to ensure that they choose fields where there are opportunities.
Shahryn Azmi, founder of MakeTimePay, a local gig jobs portal, sees several problems with the matter of the mismatch between jobs and skills.
First, he said, is the mentality that what graduates learn at university will benefit them for life.
"When you consider what course a student applies to study at university, this decision was made three, maybe even four to five years ago," he said.
"When they graduate, they are told that the course they studied and the qualifications they graduated with are not appropriate and cannot get them a job."
If higher education is only for the sake of finding a job, he said, the idea of education should be discarded and replaced with vocational training.
Professional accountant Farid Affandi said at the moment, the job market is unable to accommodate the number of graduates churned out each year.
"The country's economy generates 98,000 new jobs every year, but our universities produce 175,000 graduates annually," he said.
"This means that 30,000 graduates are still unemployed six months after they complete their studies."
This is a problem given that Malaysia requires manpower in its SME sector – the acknowledged backbone of the economy with a 38.2% GDP contribution.
SMEs also account for 48% of the Malaysian workforce.
Farid said SMEs need youth who are knowledgeable and skilled, who can be employed or set up their own businesses.
Malaysia's unemployment rate stood at 4.9% in January last year, a historical high which dropped to 3.9% in May this year.
This was nevertheless still above the pre-pandemic unemployment level of 3.2%.
Farid, a fellow at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, said this group is also the core of the full-time gig workforce which comprises jobs such as food delivery drivers and e-hailing drivers.
"It gives them flexibility in their work as the average salary offered in the market of RM2,000 or less is not appealing to them," he added.
He suggested that the government up its efforts to revive the economy, to create new job opportunities and raise the minimum wage level.
Shahryn meanwhile spoke of problems with the idea of matching graduates with opportunities as well.
He said job opportunities change according to the times, and that high demand for a particular skill set or industry would not always remain so.
"Policymakers are seeing a need in some industries and reacting by throwing all of their weight and resources into those slots," he said.
"As soon as you have varied vacancy numbers from different industries, you will have problems trying to determine how many workers of each type are really required in the pipeline, and how many should be produced immediately through skilling."
Another matter that may require change is the so-called tunnel mentality of some employers in hiring workers.
Shahryn said many employers believe that mathematics graduates, for example, are only fit to be teachers, and prefer to take on business and finance graduates instead.
"Recruiting managers are not given enough leeway by their bosses, and they are told to get rid of the non-business grads when in fact, it's likely that the best people are the ones who come from other disciplines because they complement the staff that are already in place," he said.
He believes that first-generation graduates should continue their studies in whichever field they choose.
He said forcing individuals to do otherwise will only cause losses for themselves, the economy and the country.