BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Despite Brunei’s economy being projected to recover steadily in the coming years, jobseekers still feel the burden of uncertainty in their quest for employment.

Researchers at the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies, a Brunei-based think tank, have put youth unemployment at close to 30 percent, much higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.

During the launch of Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s (UBD) Career Fair on Thursday, The Scoop approached a number of graduates who were looking for job opportunities.

Most expressed their frustrations with the current job market, believing the number of vacancies to be insufficient compared to the number graduates produced each year.

During the event, Permanent Secretary (Higher Education) at the Ministry of Education, Dr Haji Azman Ahmad, said that by the end of 2018 the country will see a total of 5,513 students graduating from private and public tertiary institutions.

That’s in addition to the 8,196 active jobseekers currently registered on the JobCentre website, compared to just 5,175 vacancies listed.

Hasnaa Haziqah Halid, who graduated from UBD in 2015, said that it is harder to secure employment nowadays even though she has observed a rise in vacancies posted.

“Employers nowadays are focused primarily on hiring potential employees with work experience which puts fresh graduates at a disadvantage,” she said.

Echoing similar sentiments, Saifullah Hj Abd Amin, who graduated from the UK last July, said finding a job in Brunei has been difficult.

Permanent Secretary (Higher Education) at the Ministry of Education, Dr Hj Azman speaking to the media on the sidelines of the UBD Career Fair on October 19, 2018. Photo: Wardi Wasil/The Scoop

The 24-year-old added that with few vacancies available, jobseekers are applying for any job they can find, even if their educational background does not match the job requirement.

“It’s frustrating to say the least. [This job mismatch means that] you would be a liability to the place you’re working in and that will not help yourself or the employer”.

Back in March, the government said that its “re-skilling” and apprenticeship programmes, such as the i-Ready scheme, have been able to bring down jobseeker numbers by 15 percent — from 11,292 in April 2017 to to 9,509 in February 2018.

Touting the success of i-Ready, which provides trainees with a basic allowance of $800 a month, the government said the programme has helped reduce graduate unemployment by 27 percent in the past year by providing paid work placements for 629 degree holders. Of that number, 146 secured permanent jobs.

Saifullah added that many jobseekers have resorted to applying for or low-paid or unpaid internships to gain experience.

“Internships are good I suppose, but it’s a pity at the same time, especially if [you’re interning for too long], with no prospects of being employed in the workplace. The experience is valuable but it should not be something you have to go through for more than six months”.

For two recent graduates from UBD’s Institute of Health Sciences, the demand of the current job market seems out of step with their qualifications.

“The job market [now] feels like it is aimed at business and entrepreneurship, but as someone from a health science background it is an area that is difficult for us to enter,” said Mann Wei.

Another health science student who only wishes to be known as Amal, said that nowadays graduates are encouraged to start their own SMEs.

“It is kind of the general view of our generation now, because it is so difficult to find jobs. With the amount of qualified individuals graduating every year compared to the job opportunities available, I think it is very imbalanced,” she said.

Even with Brunei’s economy projected to grow by 2.3 per cent this year, and the steady economic growth forecasted in the coming years, jobseekers are doubtful that it will have an immediate impact on Brunei’s youth unemployment issue.

In an interview, Dr Haji Azman Ahmad said that automation and the digital revolution has created complications in determining what jobs are available for graduates.

“It’s not so easy to plan, because you might try to prepare students for what is to come, but within the span of that four years, the job sector may have already [gone through] a few changes”.

He urged tertiary institutions to prepare their students for the new careers that may come up, particularly in robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and Internet of Things.

“As we approach the fourth industrial revolution, the jobs sector will change, and so must universities”.

This story was updated on October 19, 2018 at 5.16pm