The issue of talent shortage is not a new matter in our economy. The fundamentals lie in creating, sustaining and growing talent — via the education system, industry policy and industry progress.
There have been numerous documented news, analysis and commentary on the issues surrounding the education system. While the syllabus of tertiary education is constantly updated to ensure technical fundamentals of our graduates are maintained, there is room for improvement in preparing our students for the real working life — particularly in developing the needed interpersonal, analytical and critical thinking skills upon graduation.
For the industry, these fundamentals learned in the university are more than enough to start with — however, the ability most sought-after by employers is the ability of “learning to learn”, which allows for the graduate to independently learn on the job, supplementing any formal training conducted by the company.
However, even the best graduate with the required soft skills will not have a successful career development path without room to improve and learn within the industry. The inability to access new challenges, toxic learning cultures, and outdated company operations practices may dampen the motivation of employees to reach new heights in their careers.
Overall, the industry must also keep up with the trends of global markets—not only for the sake of their business competitiveness, but it also ensures the talents remain within the company and industry ecosystem to pursue their passion.
Having said this, the development of local talent should be viewed from this perspective of a country moving out of the comforts of the middle-class economy towards high-income status. For example, the issue of foreign labour should be viewed in the light of a temporary plug in our shortage of sustainable labour, not a long-term solution to stay within the same vicinity of a fragile business doctrine, no matter how comfortable it may seem.
The need for foreign labour is more of a symptom of the problems we need to address within our local workforce who are looking for opportunities in higher value activities that elevate their social mobility through better income.
Therefore, in order to reach a successful level of foreign labour substitution, the education system must produce more technically-inclined talent, industrial policies must cater to an ecosystem of talent development, and the industry must respond to transform their business operations to allow careers to flourish.
While the national automotive policy has placed high importance on higher-value activities for Malaysian businesses and talents, it has also developed numerous programmes to bridge the divide between graduation and industry life. It is important to note that while I used the term “tertiary education” above, today’s industry demand does not limit this discussion to university education only. Learning is a lifetime process — while it is safe to say that university education accelerates the arrival of career opportunities upon graduation, it does not mean that there should be a difference in how we perceive those without academic qualification.
Malaysia has developed a large ecosystem of skills development centres to allow an alternative to the academic learning path, such as the Institusi Latihan Kemahiran Belia dan Sukan, Centre for Instructor and Advanced Skill Training and others. MARii has also developed automotive-specific skills programmes such as the Industry Led Professional Certificate (IPC) and the IPC-PPT certification programme to recognise skills within the industry. These programmes are continuously updated to ensure compliance with new technologies in line with Industry 4.0, such as robotics, big data management, smart manufacturing and automation.
While we strive to increase the capabilities of graduates in our academic and skills programmes, it is also important for the industry to transform to higher-level upstream activities such as product design, smart automation and advanced robotics—to ensure that they can rely on a local workforce that is capable and sustainable in the long run, matching the growing needs of a people of an advanced nation.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive,
Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)