TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

Malaysia 2019 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: BOOSTING PRODUCTIVITY

Always at the cutting edge of technological developments, Malaysia is particularly keen to make its workforce digitally literate.

As Malaysia takes strides toward becoming a developed economy, its labor market finds itself in need of new skills. Even those workers whose skills were honed to perfection when they joined the workforce are quite often in need of upskilling to keep pace with advancements in a rapidly changing ecosystem.

Scholarly studies in the field of management suggest that “employee upgrading" is a key to efficiency, and a hands-on industrialist like Henry Ford once commented that “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay."

But, according to Malaysia's Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), the majority of Malaysian workers are employed by SMEs, which do not necessarily have the means to offer retraining opportunities.

Since its inception in 1993 and its restructuring in 2001, HRDF has been on a quest to change this situation by creating a culture of on-the-job training across the labor market under the supervision of the Ministry of Human Resources.
The organization covers over 2.24 million employees and approximately 25,000 employers from many sub-sectors, and it is always on the lookout to identify the hard and soft skills that are in greatest demand across the service and manufacturing industries.

HRDF is aiding its members by funding upskilling programs both inside and outside of the employer's premises. The organization, in turn, depends on levies paid by the registered employers, though the government is also supporting the cause. In 2019, HRDF is entitled to receive approximately USD4.8 million in the form of a grant for a program that promotes apprenticeship and another one that aims to make graduates more employable.

The upskilling of personnel is by no means some extra work that employers need to undertake because the school system and the universities did not do a good job. Practical know-how is, by nature, different from theoretical knowledge; “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them," observed Aristotle over two millennia ago.
All that said, like everywhere else in the world, Malaysia is suffering from some dissonance between the higher education system's output and the economy's requirements, and the curricula used by polytechnics, colleges, and universities need to be upgraded to improve the employability of graduates.

At the same time, HRDF's Graduate Enhancement Program for Employability (GENERATE) is trying to achieve a similar objective. Targeting those Malaysian degree holders who have not found employment three months after graduating and new recruits working in HRDF-registered businesses, the GENERATE initiative has set out to give the graduates the skillset which they need for job placement.

The initiative appears to be a “quick fix" in the good sense of the word, as it is trying to give the graduates, who are otherwise well-trained, a last enabling quality. It is expected that GENERATE and other technical and vocational education (TVET) programs sponsored by HRDF are going to “contribute to the creation of a 35% skilled Malaysian workforce and 1.5 million jobs by 2020."

As a country at the cutting edge of all things technological in the age of AI and the internet of things (IoT), Malaysia is particularly keen to make its workforce digitally literate. The country has even launched its national policy, Industry4WRD, to speed up the digitalization of manufacturing and business, among other things.

A new report by Randstad Malaysia, a global HR service, discovered that roughly 90% of the country's workforce think they are in need of upskilling to stay in the game. While the majority of participants had a positive attitude to emerging technologies, they also feared that they would be left behind without upgrading their skills.

This awareness is greater in those employees who have been in the job market for a while and suspect that things have changed a lot since they left school. Malaysians, however, are at an advantage compared to many parts of Asia thanks to their multilingualism and fluency in English—as the de facto language of the IT word—as well as their chance to participate in reskilling programs offered by the state.