Further, the number of graduates in the labour force (employed and unemployed) in 2021 stood at 4.77mn persons — higher than the 4.56mn recorded the year prior.

In 2021, the number of graduates in Malaysia increased by 4.7% to record a total of 5.61mn persons, up from 5.36mn that was recorded in 2020.

Taking a closer look at the data, the latest Graduate Statistics 2021, released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) on Wednesday (28 July 2022), noted:

  • The number of graduates in the labour force (employed and unemployed) rose 4.6% in 2021, recording a total of 4.77mn persons — higher than the 4.56mn recorded the year before.
  • Meanwhile, graduates’ labour force participation rate (GLFPR) remained at 85%.

The statistics delved further into details on employed graduates, unemployed graduates, as well as graduates outside the labour force, as follows.

Malaysia's 2021 graduate employment data

The statistics on employed graduates were broken down by gender, status of employment, and occupation.

Looking at gender – in 2021, the share of women graduates (51.9%, or 2.37mn persons) was higher than that of men (48.1%, or 2.2mn persons).

Compared to the previous year, the number of employed women graduates experienced a higher annual growth of 7.4% in 2021, as opposed to an increase of 2.5% in the number of employed male graduates.

By status of employment, nearly 90% of employed graduates were in the category of 'employee', making up 4.03mn persons.

At the same time, employed graduates in the category of 'own account worker', which could also be associated with entrepreneurship, made up 6.4% (290,400 persons), followed by 'employer' at 4.3% (196,600 persons). Meanwhile, another 1.1% (48,900) of employed graduates were unpaid family workers.

Finally, looking at the numbers by occupation, around two-thirds of employed graduates (64.8%) were in the skilled occupations category, accounting for 2.96mn persons. Additionally:

  • The highest share (41.1%, or 1.88mn persons) were employed in professional occupations, followed by technicians and associate professionals comprising 16.6% (758,200 persons).
  • On the contrary, another 35.2% of graduates worked in the semi-skilled and low-skilled occupation categories.

According to DOSM, the abovementioned groups could be facing a mismatch in their occupations, with their education, knowledge, and skills not being fully utilised in their current work. Per the Department, employed graduates in the semi-skilled category, which accounted for 32.9% of the total numbers, were largely employed as clerical support workers (14.4%), followed by service and sales workers (10.8%), and craft and related trades workers (4.2%). The remaining 2.3% were employed in the low-skilled category.

In a similar vein, the statistics also looked at the skill-related underemployment of graduates. As noted by DOSM, "the situation of skill-related underemployment which has been one of the fundamental and structural issues in the labour market has intensified since the health crisis."

In 2021, it added, the rate of skill-related underemployment for graduates continued to trend up, registering 33.9% (1.55mn persons)  of the total numbers (2020: 31.2%, or 1.36mn persons).

Unemployment of Malaysia's graduates in 2021

On the unemployment front, the statistics focused on the numbers by gender. 

First, it was noted that women made up 54.2% of the total number of unemployed graduates recorded in 2021 (106,900 persons), while unemployed male graduates made up 45.8% (90,500 persons).

"The decline in unemployment of graduates for the year 2021 was due to the reduction in the number of unemployed male graduates by 5.3% as against 2020, while the number of female unemployed graduates registered a marginal increase of 0.03%," DOSM highlighted.

Age-wise, the make-up of male and female unemployed graduates across age groups were similar whereby approximately half was concentrated in the age group of 25 to 34 years, followed by about one-third in the age group of 24 years and below, which the Department noted can be associated with new entrants into the labour market. 

Why some graduates in Malaysia remained outside the labour force in 2021

Coming to graduates outside the labour force, analysis by DOSM found that close to four in 10 (35.3%, or 296,000 persons) graduates were outside the labour force in 2021, "due to housework/family responsibilities." 

At the same time, those who were attending school/ training programmes made up 32.2% of the numbers (270,800 persons), while another 4.9% (49,000 persons) were going to further their studies.

Thus, education and training purposes ranked second as a reason for graduates to be outside the labour force.

Interestingly, reasons for not seeking work varied among male and female graduates outside the labour force:

  • More than four in 10 (43.8%) male graduates outside the labour force was due to old age and retirement, followed by more than one-third (34.2%) who cited schooling and training.
  • On the other hand, the majority of female graduates were outside the labour force due to housework/family responsibilities, making up a share of 52.9%. This was followed by 30.9% who were attending training/ schooling.

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Photo / DOSM

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