PETALING JAYA: Malaysia needs more engineers to become a developed nation, yet young engineers are dropping out of the profession.
It is estimated that at least a quarter of them cannot get work – some even a year after graduating – because they lack technical knowledge and soft skills.
Unable to get past the interview stage, they would lose heart and go on to other non-engineering work, said Electrical & Electronics (E&E) Productivity Nexus (EEPN) chairman Datuk Seri Wong Siew Hai (pic).
The EEPN was formed in 2017 to boost the E&E sector’s contribution to the country’s economy. Since then, it has trained 121 unemployed engineers through its E&E Engineering In-base Programme. All have since been hired.
He estimates that about 25% to 30% of fresh graduates find it tough to get a job.
The top 25% of graduates – the cream of the crop – are hired even before they finish their final exams.
These graduates usually go into design and development in multinational companies (MNC).
About 50% – the good-to-average students – graduate and go into manufacturing-related jobs or join the local small and medium companies (SMEs).
The majority of engineering graduates are not technically strong enough to do design but they can do maintenance and manufacturing work.
“The bottom 25% to 30% are the ones we worry about. We want to help them get employed in the field they were trained in,” said Wong, adding that their problem was usually weak communication skills or failing to answer interview questions – either because they did not understand what was being asked or for the lack of sound technical skills.
Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) president David Lai Kong Phooi said the quality and trainability of local graduates were being reviewed by the institution.
IEM, he said, was in the process of updating its “Benchmarking the quality of engineers Position Paper”.
The quality of engineering education in Malaysia should be viewed as “acceptable at the very least”, he said.
This is due to Malaysia’s commitment as a signatory to the Washington Accord, which requires the country to have an engineering education quality control system in place.
The accord ensures that Malaysia’s engineering programmes’ content, processes and outcomes were “substantially equivalent” to other recognised education systems across the world, added Lai.
“But while the system may be in place, the quality of students entering engineering programmes and the ability of lecturers may not be so easily determined and controlled.”
He said the number of secondary students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and the standard of English – the de facto language in engineering – had both declined.
“These, coupled with poor Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results, point to the suspicion that students who enter engineering programmes in universities may lack the necessary educational foundation required for them to become good engineers.”
Higher Education Department director-general Datin Paduka Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said being a Washington Accord signatory meant that Malaysia’s engineering programmes were of international standing and that graduates could work anywhere in world.
The engineering curriculum was designed so that students spent a semester in the industry, she added.
“But from the feedback we got, this 14-week exposure is not enough. So, some varsities have introduced year-long internships,” she said, adding that a flexible 21st century curriculum embedded with values and soft skills would enhance students’ holistic professional development.