OPINION – How suitable are you for Macau’s workforce?

Macau Business | July 2021

Keith Morrison – Author and educationist

As new graduates seek to enter Macau’s workforce, and as Macau’s labour department strives to retrain workers who were made redundant by the pandemic, what key skills do job seekers need? A recent study at Macau’s University of Saint Joseph (USJ) provides some useful tips. The survey collected data from some 630 students – undergraduates and postgraduates – at two time points in the last two years, about different aspects of their university experiences. Several points emerged that apply well to job seekers.

The survey addressed three domains of soft and hard skills: self‑skills, interpersonal skills and intellectual skills. Self‑skills included being able to work independently, self‑confidence, willingness to learn, motivation, creativity, and improving ethical values. Interpersonal skills included effective teamwork, social skills, communication skills, and respect for alternative viewpoints. Intellectual skills included problem solving, analytical thinking, critical thinking, and being able to contribute positively to professional practice. All these are essential for effective workers. Ask yourself how good your skills are here. Where are your strengths and weaknesses in this spread of skills?

Using the results of the USJ survey (terminology marked in inverted commas below), it was noted that ‘creativity’ touched several key skill requirements and correlated moderately strongly with ‘ability to solve problems’, ‘thinking analytically’ and ‘thinking critically’. Likewise, problem-solving ability correlated moderately strongly with ‘communication skills’ and ‘greater respect for alternative viewpoints’, and more strongly with ‘thinking analytically’ and ‘thinking critically’: people skills and thinking skills. Further, the survey item on contributing well to professional practice correlated moderately strongly with problem‑solving ability, ‘thinking analytically’, ‘interpersonal skills’ and ‘communication skills’. How good are your skills here? How creative are you and how good are you at thinking differently? How well can you identify and solve problems?

Being an effective professional requires a creative mind; problem solving is a creative act, not just doing what you are told to do. Similarly, critical thinking, disruptive thinking and thinking out of the box are up there with problem‑solving and being creative in high quality employment. Indeed, a study of employees in Portugal published earlier this year, by Cruz and his associates, found that, for example in tourism employment (also a key feature of Macau), important ‘dispositions’ such as the ability to identify, anticipate and analyze problems, together with ‘inquisitiveness’ and ‘perseverance’ accompanied critical thinking. But, oh, I nearly forgot: thinking critically is naughty in Macau.

Critical thinking, creativity, analytical thinking, communication and problem solving appeared to be linked in the USJ survey. Add to these its finding that a socio‑intellectual factor was present in all of this: ‘greater respect for alternative viewpoints’. Are you a good listener as well as a good talker and thinker?

There were clusters of items with elective affinities in the USJ study. For example, cluster one: the greatest amount of change in the dependent variable ‘better contribution to professional practice in the field’ was predicted strongly (statistically speaking) by the items ‘thinking analytically’, ‘thinking critically’, ‘ability to work well with others’, and ‘ability to solve problems’. Cluster two: the item ‘being able to work independently’, i.e. without close supervision, another key requirement in employment, was predicted strongly by ‘self‑confidence’, ‘ability to solve problems’, ‘thinking critically’ and ‘willingness to learn/self-motivation’. Ask yourself: how good are your intellectual and interpersonal skills here? How well do you contribute to a team effort? How strong are your self‑skills and your self‑management? How self‑propelling are you in your work?

The students at the University of Saint Joseph gave high marks for their university experience. It had developed their hard and soft skills, working with ideas and working with people. It would be interesting to conduct a Macau‑wide comparative survey, focusing on multiple skill domains, of how well its higher education institutions prepare graduates for employment. Other countries conduct such surveys as standard practice; why not Macau?