AFTER the recent announcement of the SPM results, students are now advancing towards the next phase of their lives – higher education. They would apply for courses in their field of choice, hoping to pursue their dream careers.

The question is, will they get jobs once they graduate? In the 14th general election, one of the most evocative campaign topics will be youth unemployment. Many blame the Government for the problem. While their concerns are understandable, blaming the Govern­ment is a largely unproductive approach. Here’s why.

In our current era of rapidly developing technology, traditional employment-generating industries are being fundamentally disrupted. As a result, governments all over the world are facing rising youth unemployment of up to 13.1% in 2017, according to the United Nations.

In Malaysia, youth unemployment is lower at 10.7% and, according to Bank Negara, is also partly due to the inadequate supply of industry-ready graduates.

One major factor is that new technologies demand new skills. In short, youth unemployment is not a Malaysian specific problem; most countries are facing this challenge.

Many would argue that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the education system is adapted to match the demands of new industries.

To some extent, yes. However, there is only so much that governments around the world can do to change rigid education structures that have been embedded in our society since the first industrial revolution in the 18th Century. Change will occur, but history has shown that the pace will be slower than the rapid evolution in technology, which has now reached unprecedented levels.

In the meantime, young people need to take charge of their own future and move forward together if we are to thrive today, tomorrow and beyond. If we depend solely on the system, we won’t realise our potential and would ultimately be left behind.

While it is important to have a university qualification, this alone may no longer be sufficient to thrive in today’s world. This is because our qualifications may well become obsolete in a matter of years. A report in Forbes argued that artificial intelligence would take over jobs in finance, architecture, healthcare, teaching, journalism, law and insurance over the next 10 years. As someone who read accountancy in university, this worries me!

The bottom line is that young people today need to dynamically reinvent themselves by continuously acquiring new skills to adapt to rapid technological change.

What are these new skills?

It can be those needed by new fields in the fourth industrial revolution (IR4.0). The World Economic Forum defines the first industrial revolution as the age driven by mechanisation, water and steam power generation. The second gave rise to mass production, assembly lines and electricity. In the third industrial revolution, computers and automation emerged. The fourth is about cyber and physical systems.

Fields such as big data, Internet of Things, nanotechnology, 3D printing, autonomous cars, quantum computing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are among the components of IR4.0.

These fields have driven the rise of the shared economy and companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which have disrupted the transport and property sectors. Advanced robotics and artificial intelligence are displacing human labour in the delivery services and warehouses like Amazon.

Recently, Toys R’ Us filed for bankruptcy in the United States and closed 880 retail stores, retrenching 30,000 workers in one of the largest-ever retail bankruptcies in the world. The company had struggled in the age of Internet retailing. As consumers went online to get a wide range of cheaper and more easily accessible products, Toy’s R’ us found itself lagging behind Amazon and Walmart.

The company’s fall is part of a wider trend. More stores in the US announced closings in 2017 than any other year on record. It is happening all round the world, and Malaysia is no exception.

In contrast, e-commerce is booming and jobs in logistics, computer science and businesses harnessing the power of Internet retailing are increasing. Our Government has responded with the launching of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ), which plans to double SME goods export rate to US$38bil by 2025 and create 60,000 jobs in Malaysia.

But this might not be enough. Young people still need to move fast in identifying new opportunities that emerge, reinvent themselves by acquiring new skills and step forward. There is no point blaming others or the Government. Wake up! The phenomenon of disruption is happening globally and traditional jobs are fast disappearing!

New industries are ending traditional employment opportunities but they are also creating new, more sophisticated ones. Only those who are fast and agile enough to acquire new skills will be able to capitalise on the wave of rapid technological advancement. Those who fail to do so will have a hard time finding employment in the future.

In the GE14 campaign, political parties will certainly raise the issue of youth unemployment and will probably engage in ugly debates over it.

Young people need to ignore this. Instead, they need to believe – not in a candidate or a politician or a party but in themselves, their own ability to rise to the challenges in this era of disruption.

The Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE) urges young people to move #ForwardTogether in solidarity as we face this era of disruption. At the end of the day, our survival depends on how well we work together to innovate, take risks and to motivate each other to try out new things. Only then can we succeed in this dynamically changing world.

Originally published on The Star on Tuesday March 27, 2018.

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