Graduan managing director Elia Talib (centre) with Joanne Kua (second from left), Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz (fourth from left) and Riad Asmat (right). COURTESY OF GRADUAN ASPIRE.

IT is becoming difficult for fresh graduates to keep up with the demands of today’s world. What they have learned from university may become obsolete the moment they graduate. Therefore, it is important for them to stay relevant at the workplace, but how do they achieve this feat?

CIMB Group Holdings Bhd chief executive officer (CEO) Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said to achieve this feat, they must have the right mindset upon starting a career.

“In today’s world, things are changing at a fast pace. So, you need to know what is going to be the future of the workforce,” he said at the Aspire+ Corporate Luncheon in conjunction with the Graduan Aspire career fair at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre recently.

The luncheon was an invitation-only networking session between prominent corporate leaders and a select 200 creme de la creme of Malaysian graduates and working professionals.

The session entitled “Are you relevant for the future?” featured a panel of esteemed CEOs, including Tengku Zafrul, Joanne Kua of KSK Group Bhd and Riad Asmat of AirAsia Bhd.

Kua, 35, said the real definition of staying relevant is being visible.

“You have to wake up every morning with a purpose. Previously, interviewers would ask applicants what they are able to contribute to the company. Today, we have switched that equation and ask ‘What can you do for yourself?’

“Then, we ask what can you do for yourself in the company. You will continue to be visible if you can answer those questions. It’s all about learning and growing,” said Kua, who attained her position at age 28.

Riad, 47, said everyone is relevant but certain adjustments must be made to fit the market.

“In this technology-driven world, you need to make your skills relevant in line with global needs.”

“You need to adjust by skilling up to a certain degree or specialise in specific areas. As an organisation, we will look at what we need and find the fit. More importantly, we give opportunities.

“In universities, the programmes offered have not changed. But specialisations are the new areas that will accommodate the needs of today.”

Riad, who has a background in public relations, added: “It all boils down to what you want to do. I am a PR and marketing person.

“But I realised that if I’m passionate about my work, I need to continuously learn and I do that daily. I would ask if I don’t understand something.”

Tengku Zafrul added: “When I started working, popular jobs today didn’t exist. No one was looking for digital analysts or data scientists. You really need to be able to adapt.

“My advice is be ready for change. Never think that the job and the skill set that you have today will be relevant tomorrow.”

Graduates are expected to know what their interests are from the very beginning. How can they utilise their passion to drive their career forward?

Noting that everyone has a different passion, Kua said: “In my personal journey, I started off as an economist, but now I’m here. My passion is growing a business and building a legacy.

“If your goal is to make money, that’s fine. That’s your passion. As a graduate, you can look for a place that suits your skills and reward you monetarily.”

She said there is no such thing as a set career path.

“Essentially, everyone is continuously looking. The real test is waking up every morning and asking yourself if you are happy today, and if you still want to do this.

“If things fall apart, you would still go to work because you know, at the end of the day, you’ll walk out happy.”

Adding that passion changes over time, Kua said she always tells graduates it’s okay to discover.

“If you’re in a career where you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t feel like there’s a purpose anymore, be bold and move out.

“Leave your comfort zone, learn something new and maybe you’ll find something that sprouts out from there.”

For Riad, being inquisitive propels him forward.

“As an individual who graduated years ago, I think what has driven me from day one until now is the level of curiosity and my ability to maintain that.

“I’ve gone through a lot of jobs. It’s always the curiosity that pushes me as I get bored easily.”

Noting that everyone has different capabilities, Riad added: “I’m not an entrepreneur and I can’t be one. I gauge what I can and cannot do. But the curiosity that guides me everyday keeps me going.”

Tengku Zafrul said while it’s good to have passion and set targets, graduates need to realise that plans are not foolproof.

Having gone through several career changes himself, he said it’s okay to try something different and realise that it’s not what you want.

“I’ve tried to be an entrepreneur once. Then, I decided that it was not my cup of tea.”

Tengku Zafrul added that in the face of adversity, one must not give up easily.

“It is important to get up when you fall. During the course of your career, you’ll have these ups and downs due to many factors. I have seen people who have taken it too hard and they find it difficult to recover from that fall.

“We always see graphs of companies’ performance going upwards. But the real graph of individual personal growth is actually volatile. The challenges will be harder as you move forward in your career,” said Tengku Zafrul.

The CEOs divulged the traits that they personally would like prospective employees to have.

Riad said: “It’s important for people to be honest about themselves. I also need someone who is agile and is willing to change.

“The world and our business change every millisecond. Those are the crucial traits that I would look for in my management.

“You need to be capable. My flight operations director needs to know how to fly a plane. In the management aspect, skilling up and communication can be taught.”

Adding that CEOs play a role in guiding people, Riad said: “No one is perfect. But if you have the aforementioned traits, someone would want to utilise you as part of the team.”

Tengku Zafrul said graduates are expected to have the foundation traits, such as integrity, openness and hardworking attitude.

Leading a large organisation with more than 14,000 staff, he added that he needs people with leadership skills.

“Leadership is key. An organisation of our size requires good leaders, who can work in a team.

“You can employ the best strategy, but to execute the plan successfully, you need people. Teamwork is about collaboration, understanding each other and having empathy.

“We are not looking for heroes who want to do everything themselves, or think that they can change and solve everything alone. Instead, we want leaders.”

Tengku Zafrul highlighted that young talents must have irreplaceable skills.

“In Industry 4.0, where you have artificial intelligence, a lot of skills can be replaced by technology.

“What are the skills that can’t be replaced? They are teamwork, collaboration, leadership, empathy and problem-solving. Of course, it’s not easy to get these traits straight away. You will learn them on the job.”

According to Kua, companies look for people who understand their customers.

“You don’t only need the technical abilities, but you need the soft skills as well to put all these things together. It’s very important to have that balance.”

She added that continuous learning is vital and failures should not be seen as entirely negative.

“You’re allowed to fail in small progressions. We celebrate failures as much as we celebrate successes. But, do not repeat the same mistakes twice.”

Kua said everyone has their own strength and weakness.

“If you put everyone’s strength together, that’s what you call a team.”

Launched by Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and Graduan managing director Elia Talib, Graduan Aspire attracted approximately 70,000 visitors and more than 150 top companies.