TO achieve the New Economic Model’s aspirations, Malaysia will also need to attract foreign high-skilled talents to come and work in the country.
However, as Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan highlights, the country is having trouble drawing them.
In the year 2000, he points out, there were 80,000 medium- and high-skilled expatriates in Malaysia. That number decreased to 38,000 last year. But in the same time period, the number of unskilled foreign workers increased from 1.5 million to 2.2 million.
“We can see that we are not able to attract brain power. And it is a known fact that Malaysia is not a low-cost labour centre any more,” he says, adding that it would be difficult to compete with countries such as Vietnam, Laos and India in the future.
It is for this reason that Malaysia has to move up the value-added chain into a niche market, he says. For this, Malaysia needs human capital to satisfy the would-be investors.
Shamsuddin agrees that there have to be more expatriate-friendly policies, particularly immigration policies for the workers and their spouses.
“For example in Malaysia, it is not automatic for the spouse to get PR even though he or she is skilful. We have to be more flexible to attract the right people into the country.”
He says that Singapore (where there are about 378,000 working Malaysians) attract the best young talents by sponsoring their education.
“Having been educated there, they want to continue staying there. There is no equivalent system here,” he says.
On the other hand, the Government sends many to study overseas but a lot end up not coming back, a fact which he attributes to low salary and the lack of opportunities.
For example, Shamsuddin says, biotechnology students find it hard to get suitable jobs here.
“We are always talking about biofuel but I don’t see any pump selling it anywhere,” he says, adding that there was a gap in planning and implementation.
Just last week, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin revealed that her ministry is looking at the possibilities of providing more places for medicine programmes at local institutions of higher learning to keep future doctors here.
She admitted that efforts to lure home the several hundred Malaysian doctors working overseas have met with lukewarm success, revealing that the ministry had even contacted many of the doctors but only a small number had responded to the call to return home.
The doctor-patient ratio in Malaysia, as shown by last year’s figures, stands at 1:905 compared with the 1:600 yardstick set by the United Nations.
Train the locals
Anisa Muzaffar, programme manager, South-South Cooperation for Development, UNDP Malaysia, believes that the same amount of resources used for bringing Malaysians abroad back can instead be used to develop the skills and expertise of Malaysians who are currently working and residing in the country.
Anisa says Malaysians in the country have so much potential that their skills and expertise should be developed further. She believes that by continuously looking for new means to bring Malaysians living abroad back, we are in a way saying that Malaysians who have worked abroad or have experience abroad are more valuable in terms of skill sets than Malaysians working in the country who have never had overseas working experience.
She says there are many Malaysians with huge potential who work in the country because of family, cultural affinity, and patriotism. The contribution of these Malaysians should be appreciated by building them further so they become experts in their field and can eventually contribute more significantly to the country, she notes.
“We have to realise that for many Malaysians living abroad, they would like to see the country develop to a certain level before they come back. Some of them have very specialised skill sets and argue that the research facilities in the country are not up to par to support their research work if they were to come back.”
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