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Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1. Background of Study

Most industries worldwide and in particular in Malaysia have a great need for a highly skilled workforce graduates from higher education institutions as well as Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). New and emerging technologies will continue to have an impact on Malaysia’s industrial and economic development according to MITI, (2006). In the era of globalization, the need for knowledge manpower with generic attributes is essential in order for the individual to stay competitive and relevant with the rapid changes of technology (Cheng Hwa et al., 2009; National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), 2003).

There have been many discussions locally and internationally about graduates lacking in attributes of generic skills as required by the job market resulting in a low rate of employability. Many studies for instance Jones (1997), Kanapathy (2001), conducted in 2006 under the auspices of the Ministry of Higher Education, on 422 employers in Malaysia, regarding their expectations and satisfaction levels of the graduates that they have employed (Hassan et al., 2007). The study indicated that employers were very much concerned with improving the competencies of engineering graduates such as, the ability to undertake problem identification, formulation and solution, the ability to communicate effectively, teamwork, ability to utilise a systems approach to design and evaluate operational performance.

In November 2011, a survey was conducted on 571 human resource managers by JobStreet.com, a Malaysian employment agency. The study revealed that employers were unable to employ graduates due to their poor communication skills and lack of command in using English (Izwan & Zurairi, 2012). The Director of the Division Development and Student Affairs of the Ministry of Higher Education, Prof. Dr Mohd Fauzi Ramlan stated that issues causing difficulties in the employment of graduates were weakness in solving problems, job-switching and a lack of self-confidence (Bernama, 2012).

Research conducted by Ramlee (1999), found that, although Malaysian’s graduates had equipped themselves with technical skills yet; they were unable to convince the employers of their suitability for the job because they lacked generic skills such as communication, entrepreneurship, motivational, social interaction, critical thinking,

and problem-solving skills. This scenario happens due to the existing system in higher education as well as TVET that puts less emphasis on the mastery of generic skills among students (Quek, 2000; Lee, 2000; Asma & Lim, 2000).

The elements of generic skills especially the communication, problem-solving and teamwork which are the top three requirements by the industries in Malaysia are essential to ensure the TVET providers stay relevant in the training of the workforce with competencies as required by specific industries. Teamwork skills, decision-making, initiative, problem-solving and communication skills are essential components for graduates to possess that are relevant to an industry which enables them to be more competitive and increase the chance of employability (Clarke, 1997). According to Hassan (2002), the lacking of generic skills is among the factors that contributed to the unemployed graduates of higher education institutions because they do not have the ability to convince the employer with their personality, confidence, communication, decision-making and team working. This situation demonstrates that generic skills are essentially necessary for the graduates besides having the technical skills for them to succeed (Clagett, 1997; Goldberg, 1996;

NSPE, 1992) and according to Adnan (2004) to have competent workforce as needed by the employers in the industries; Graduates of higher institutions, as well as TVET, need to equip themselves with generic skills in order to fulfil the demand of employers and to stay relevant to the specific industry’s need. TVET educational system has gradually experienced changes in most of the developing countries particularly in Malaysia where generic skills have gained serious attention (Shakir, 2009) for it to be applied in the learning and training syllabus (Ministry of Higher Education, 2006; Ministry of Higher Education, 2007). This situation is based on the feedback from many surveys done among employers which showed that a majority of the graduates lacked in mastering the generic skills that make them difficult to be employed (Quek, 2000; Baharuddin, 2003).

The government of Malaysia has taken firm action to overcome this issue by introducing generic skills also known as soft skills into the curriculum of all higher educational institutions in Malaysia (Ministry of Higher Education, 2006; Ministry of Higher Education, 2007). Educators in the higher education institutions as well as in TVET continue to strive to identify instructional approaches that can effectively promote and stimulate generic skills. Many educational institutions in Malaysia especially in the field of engineering as well as in technical vocational learning have used instructional strategies such as problem-based, project-based and production-based learning (PBL) to achieve the desired generic skills (Adnan et al., 2009;

Cheng Hwa et al., 2009). Many studies have shown that PBL is very successful in educating students to “learn how to learn” and develop a positive attitude towards learning. A study by Othman et al. (2010) proposes that changes in the learning approach utilising problem-based learning (PBL) can increase the employability of graduates. According to the published work by Albanese and Mitchell (1993); Ryan (1993); Ostwald & Kingsland (1994) and Little et al. (1995), that although PBL has

proved to be an effective learning strategy such as in medicine and health sciences, it was also found to be effective by professional studies such as engineering, law, psychology, education, economics and architecture.

There is a need for further investigation in order establish that PBL could also effectively be implemented in TVET, since:

 There is no known research carried out in Malaysia so far; specifically on the implementation of PBL on students in TVET that involves theoretical and practical works.

 TVET is different from other fields of studies because it emphasizes more on hands-on skills which mostly involve in mastering and handling sophisticated machine tools. For PBL to be successfully implemented in TVET, many factors need consideration especially in the design of PBL’s framework in order to achieve the desired learning objectives and outcomes.

This issue is not a matter of how effective PBL is, but rather how PBL can be used effectively under the specific conditions of TVET in Malaysia. The PBL approach is a student-centered approach, the learning capabilities or learning pace among students varies, hence, “sufficient time” for them to work out on problems is very time consuming and which the normal TVET approaches are unable to provide. It is a common practice in the TVET approach where 60% to 70% from the total learning hour is allocated for practical work or hands-on training and only 30% to 40% for the theoretical which involve lectures. At the German Malaysian Institute (GMI), the PBL approach is embedded together with the current traditional teaching approach and shared the allocated learning time for the course without any additional time given.

In the context of TVET providers particularly at GMI, the question also arises whether the PBL approach applies to students of any level of academic performance abilities and how it affects the learning, technical and social competencies of students in the TVET at the GMI. One of the hypotheses of this study is that the students with good prior academic performance are more motivated toward learning.

The hypothesis is based on the researcher’s teaching experience at the GMI when conducting traditional lecture-based classes with a various level of students’ prior academic performance. Therefore it would be expected that there are differences regarding learning competency which influence the learning outcome. The entry qualification to study at the GMI’s Diploma level programme is five credits and above for students with Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE) holders (O level equivalence) and three credits (MCE) or lower for Technical certificates holders from technical institutions in Malaysia. For the German A-Level Preparatory Program (GAPP), the entry qualification is with straight “A” in MCE. GAPP is a programme recognized by the University of Applied Sciences (UAS) or

Fachhochschule in Germany to prepare students with technical and practical outcomes efficiently and effectively. However, without a proper “method of instruction” or learning approach that can stimulate generic skills effectively among students, such intended and desired attributes will be difficult to achieve. The learning approach that attracted GMI’s attention for its students was the problem-based learning (PBL) approach because that is known to have good results with training for professional practise.