WHEN it was announced in the middle of the year that an agency called Talent Corp will be set up to lure Malaysian professionals and persuade foreign professionals to live and work here, many were understandably sceptical.
This is because the Government, so far, has not had much luck in bringing Malaysians back despite various incentives and schemes in the past two decades.
For one thing, it will not be easy to convince Malaysians who have already made a life for themselves in their adopted countries to come home.
Many will be reluctant to uproot themselves and their families simply because of financial and other commitments, including schooling for the children. It will take a lot of convincing given the weak state of the local education system and the high fees charged by private and international schools.
Those with foreign spouses will also have to think twice as their spouses may have skill sets that may not match the local economic environment.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who will serve as chairman of the board of trustees of Talent Corp, acknowledged the uphill task and difficulties ahead during the launch of Talent Corp over the week, which will be operational from Jan 1 onwards.
He says no one agency will be able to achieve the goals (of bringing back talent) as the issues are broad and complex.
Najib says the Government will continue to engage and work together with industry and talent to ensure efforts are aligned to achieve the 2020 economic goals.
But just how complex are the issues?
For starters, the country lacks a solid middle strata of professionals and skilled workers for the economy to move up the value chain and be competitive. This issue cannot be addressed overnight.
Policymakers have acknowledged the problems caused by the brain drain as highlighted in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP).
However, in an increasingly polarised country where ethnic and religious issues have taken a more strident tone in the political discourse in recent years, reforms which involve politically sensitive decisions may be harder to push through.
Political analyst Dr Ong Kian Ming tells StarBizWeek that political will is a key factor in pushing through reforms.
He points out that Najib will be under heavy pressure over politically unpopular decisions from fringe right wing groups such as Perkasa.
Ong adds that several initiatives under the New Economic Model aimed at taking out the distortions in the economy have not been followed through. Hopefully the same won't happen for Talent Corp, he says.
Ong says this represents the best attempt yet at using a government agency to have a coordinated effort in attracting back Malaysian talent from overseas.
By having a high level board of trustees which includes Najib as well as (Datuk Seri) Idris Jala, Talent Corp can help returnees deal better and more efficiently with the civil service during the transition period from overseas back to settling into their jobs in Malaysia, he says.
The tricky part, however, is to define the kinds of jobs which these returning Malaysians are supposed to fill and the role which Talent Corp will play in helping them find these jobs.
Senior officials in the Najib administration have admitted the difficult task of getting even a small proportion of the estimated 785,000 Malaysians working abroad, of which more than two-thirds have tertiary qualifications, to come home.
In a briefing just days before the ETP open day on Sept 21, Idris pointed out that there will be successes and rejections in convincing skilled Malaysians and foreigners but the Government must try.
We've to convince them that we've something concrete to offer and we've to go out and sell that proposition, Idris says in that briefing.
Nevertheless, economists see the initiatives announced in Budget 2011, the first of the 10MP fiscal year budgets (which runs from 2011 to 2015), as a first step towards addressing at least some of the problems related to the country's soft infrastructure.
Inevitably, they say effective implementation is important to the success of the ETP. As Affin Investment Bank Bhd economist Alan Tan said in a Dec 6 report that the Government needed to empower the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu, which has been given the task of coordinating the reforms) to ensure success.
He also says Pemandu faces near term challenges to overcome resistance from vested interests.
Ong, on the other hand, says the push factors will continue to be there.
He adds that the civil service needs people who have more overseas exposure instead of those with the traditional mindset and good at implementing and executing plans.
They need to understand the frustrations of Malaysians who left and why they don't want to come back in the first place, he says.
Also, the matching between individuals and jobs needs to be done in a systematic and intelligent manner.
This means that Talent Corp has to identify some of the key jobs which need to be filled in the country (including and especially in the private sector) and find suitable individuals to fill these positions, he says.
To do this, the agency will need access to a large database and network so that those who want to come back can utilise the information and network to transition themselves more efficiently back here.
Lastly, he says Talent Corp has the challenge of figuring out how it wants to add value to the whole process above and beyond what a company like Jobstreet does.
After all, someone who wants to come back to Malaysia can presumably use Jobstreet to find a job or utilise their local contacts in Malaysia to find a job, Ong says.
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