The share of Penang’s youth population has been decreasing since 2015. Nevertheless, the decrease over the years is considered minute, as youths still stand for 27.2% of the state’s estimated total population in 2019 (Figure 1). In the same year, youths aged 15-19 are 27% of the total youth population, while the percentage of youths aged 20-24 and 25-29 are 35.5% and 37.5% respectively.
Figure 2 illustrates the composition of Penang’s youth population in terms of gender and ethnicity from 2015-2019. The number of male youths consistently outweighed the number of female youths; in 2019, male youths are 50.7% of the total youth population. At 42.4%, the Bumiputeras are the biggest ethnic group among the Penang youth, followed by the Chinese at 31.2%. Interestingly, there is a high percentage of non-Malaysian youths in Penang, outnumbering the percentage of Indian youths. The number of non-Malaysian youths is significantly higher for the age groups 20-24 and 25-29, where it can be inferred that they are possibly expatriates working in Penang.
Youth in Education
The assumption is made that youths will be the biggest majority of students in Malaysia’s public universities. For 2016 and 2017, the field of social sciences, business and law was the field that garnered the highest number of enrolments, in addition to producing the most number of graduates among Penang-born students in public universities (Table 1). This field stood for close to one-third of total enrolments, and accounted for more than 35% of total graduates.
Engineering, manufacturing and construction was the next preferred field of study, where it represented 25.8% of total enrolments for Penang-born students in 2017, and produced 24.6% of total graduates in 2017, tracking similarly to 2016. The least popular field of study was agriculture and veterinary – less than 2% of Penang-born students registered for the field for 2016, and the numbers continued to decrease in 2017.
With regards to the level of study, there was an overall increase in total intake and enrolment for Penang-born students in 2017. However, the number of graduates decreased by 14.1% from the previous year (Table 2). The significant decreases for graduates were seen for the level of bachelor, diploma and others. With the exception of other fields, the intake for all levels of study increased in 2017. Meanwhile, bachelor, diploma and matriculation, and foundation courses saw increases in student enrolment.
As expected, youths aged 25-29 had the highest labour force participation rate (LFPR); a majority of youths aged 15-19 would be schooling, and a significant portion of youths aged 20-24 would be receiving tertiary education. Penang’s youth LFPR consistently remains higher than the national rate for youths aged 20-29, but tracked lower for the age group of 15-19. This surmises that a higher percentage of these Penang youths remained in the secondary education system, in comparison to the national percentage. The LFPR for Penang youths aged 24-29 fluctuated in small percentages from 2014 to 2019, maintaining at a rate of more than 87%.
As Figure 4 shows, the unemployment rate for Penang youths is considerably lower than that of Malaysia. The highest rate of unemployment, tracking well above 15% nationally and above 10% at state level (with the exception of 2014), is found among youths aged 15-19. This signifies the importance of education in gaining employment, as the highest level of education attained by this group would at best be secondary education.
Unemployment rates are also high among youths aged 20- 24; in fact, it has been increasing in Penang since 2016. The unemployment rate of 6.6% in 2018 is the highest across the fiveyear period. The national rate is comparatively more consistent with smaller percentages of increment, but stands at 3% higher than Penang’s unemployment rate in 2018 – 2.2%. The older age group of 25-29 struggled less with unemployment, with 2.1% for the state, which was 1.6% lower than the national rate. Since 2016, Penang has recorded declining unemployment rates for this age group.
The biggest proportion of unemployed persons in Malaysia and Penang are unfortunately sustained by youths (Figure 5). In 2018 youths in Penang made up 70.4% of total unemployed persons in the state, with youths aged 20-24 standing for the biggest percentage at 40.3%. It was a lower percentage compared to the national rate, where the youths were 78.8% of total unemployed persons. The percentage of youths in total unemployment for Penang fluctuated over the five-year period, and saw a decrease from 73.4% in 2017 to 70.4% in 2018. In contrast, the Malaysian percentage increased by 0.8% in the same years.
The largest percentage of unemployed persons in Malaysia and Penang was represented by youths in the age group of 20-24, accounting for 41.1% and 40.3% respectively of total unemployment last year. This suggests that graduate unemployment is a perturbing factor when discussing youth unemployment.
In Malaysia, a majority of youth employment are in mid-skill jobs across all age groups, with an increase from 2016-2018 (Figure 6).1 Within the mid-skill level, services and sales had the highest proportion of youth involvement. Nevertheless, there was also a significant proportion of youths in low-skilled jobs (i.e. elementary occupations), where youths aged 20-24 (16.5%) and 25-29 (12.7%) marked the third-highest percentage across all occupation groups in 2018. In comparison, high-skill jobs had the highest participation from youths aged 25; however, the proportion of managers were still relatively small, standing at 2.0% in 2018.