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Does A Degree Guarantee A Bright Future In Malaysia?

Batch 05’ are the latest SPM graduates and are now having to ask themselves the ever-important question: What do I want to do now? Should I start working or should I further my studies?


University versus influencer

According to our Education Minister, Fadhlina Sidek, 48% of the 2021 SPM leavers chose not to continue their studies. That’s 180,000 graduates - a staggering number. And as reported by The Malay Daily, there are three reasons why this is happening: 1) The availability of job opportunities in the gig economy. 2) The perception that further education does not contribute to better job prospects. 3) The rise in influencer culture.


What I want to explore in this article is the validity of these three reasons and whether or not they should dictate if SPM grads get their degrees in this day and age.


Reason #1: Job Opportunities in the Malaysia Gig Economy


GrabFood and FoodPanda Riders

In recent years, we’ve seen a boom in the gig economy, mainly driven by the food rider and e-hailing industry. So much so that our government had plans to subsidise motor licenses and vehicle purchases. In other industries like media and entertainment, freelancing has made a comeback after MCO and is thriving once again. Then as a result of hybrid and work-from-home culture, more and more people are starting to pick up on freelance jobs or side hustles, contributing even more to the gig economy.


All of these have become appealing for SPM grads and we understand why! The gig economy is easy to get in and if you're lucky, it can become quite lucrative. Let’s say you have a skill like video editing, you can simply offer your services and there will be people who are willing to pay for it. Or even if you don’t have any skills, you can become a GrabRider - you’ll just need a license and a motorcycle. The thing with the gig economy is that with some effort, you’ll get to see the monetary rewards pretty quickly. And what’s more appealing than money, right?


Well, sorry to burst your bubble but there are downsides to the gig economy. One of the main downsides is that it is a very easily replaceable industry. Think about it, let’s say you were to get into an accident and it debilitates you from becoming a GrabRider, there is a line of people waiting to replace your job simply because the entry requirement is so low and it doesn’t require many skills other than riding a motorbike.


There’s also no career progression and at any moment, you may lose it all (grim, I know but it’s the truth). In the USA, we’re already seeing this where food delivery riders are getting their jobs replaced by drones. It’s only a matter of time before we see this happening in Malaysia too.


Personally, if the reason for you not to pursue your education is to get into the gig economy, I think it’s going to be an uphill battle and requires you to plan much further into your future. You’ll need to ask yourself about what you want to do 5 to 10 years from now and whether or not the experience you’re gathering from here on out will contribute to that goal you have in mind.


Nonetheless, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to earn some extra money to help support your family, going into the gig economy is one of the fastest ways you can do this. Then after that, if you want to pursue a degree, you can still do it because, with tertiary education, you’re not tied down to an age requirement.


Reason #2: Getting A Degree Does Not Mean Better Job Prospects In Malaysia


Working in an office job

From the get-go, this reason is rather invalid. According to a study in 2018 by OECD, it shows that workers with tertiary education generally earn 60% more than those who only have a high school diploma.


This is further supported by the starting salaries offered by companies where if you’re an SPM graduate, your pay will likely range between RM1,000-RM1,500; a diploma will get you RM2,000-RM2,500 and a degree will get you a starting salary of RM2,800-RM3,500.


Of course, depending on the industry you’re in, sometimes your experience matters more than your educational qualifications. However, it can’t be denied that for the most part, with a single piece of paper, your starting salary will greatly differ.


The other thing about getting a higher salary from the start is that it propels you forward in terms of salary increment. Naturally, as you progress further in your career, you’ll get paid more; and if your starting salary is RM3,500 at 23 years old as a fresh degree graduate, by 27 or 28 years old, you can expect to earn around RM5,000-RM6,000. In comparison, if you’re an SPM graduate, you may lose out on career progression, especially in a traditional corporate setting, consequently not getting the salary increments you deserve.


Reason #3: The Rise in Influencer Culture


Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube has given rise to a completely new industry - influencers. We all probably follow at least one influencer and have seen the life they portray through their feed. It’s all about glamour, fun and most importantly, money. A lot of it.


Whether it’s from affiliated marketing, sponsorships or ambassadorship, these influencers seem to be living the high life and most of them are in their early 20s! So, we totally understand why this lifestyle is appealing to SPM leavers.


But the reality is, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for influencers. When you become an influencer, you’re essentially working for yourself. You own a business and that business is you. You’ll need to learn how to market, brand and position yourself in the ever-evolving industry, and pick up on business strategies to keep yourself relevant as well as profitable. Otherwise, another influencer will quickly rise up and take over your spotlight.


Additionally, contrary to popular belief, payment doesn't always come in monetary form. Some influencers get “paid” in terms of products. Sure, you’ll get to keep the latest clothes collection and beauty products but those products don’t pay for your bills. So, most influencers find themselves still having to work their day jobs while hustling on the side to grow their business.


And as we all know, starting a business is never easy. It requires a broad amount of knowledge that you’ll have to learn on your own now that you’ve decided not to pursue a degree. You’ll have to grow and learn from your mistakes a lot quicker than your peers who have the chance to experiment in university because the consequences for you are much greater.


Conclusion


So, can a degree guarantee a bright future in Malaysia? Well, it depends.


If you’re planning to pursue a career in fields like medicine, law, accounting, engineering, or computer science, then you’ll definitely need a degree solely for practical purposes. However, if you’re planning to go into business, marketing or media, then maybe that 3-4 years spent in university is not necessary.


If you’re able to gather the right experiences, build your resume/portfolio and make valuable connections, you should be able to land a job or start your own business. Just bare in mind that there will be some trials and tribulations you’ll face along the way.


With that being said, it’s also important to acknowledge that furthering your education requires a lot of money and there are some who are not privileged enough to do that. The good thing is that in this day and age, most companies, especially in the media industry, will hire SPM graduates even if they have no experience. What’s more important (and what employers look out for) is the strong attitude of wanting to learn and constantly improve their craft.


Actually, we made a video talking about this and we dove further into why SPM grads think this way (and it has everything to do with our education system), so, if you’re interested, you can check out the video here.

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