IN today’s global marketplace, competition for good talent is intense.
However, competition for great talent is fierce.
Malaysia is facing a two-pronged talent shortage, the first being migration, and the latter being the effects of aging on the talent pool.
Though it may not be obvious to employers in the skilled workforce, talent depletion is seen in the fields of high technology, finance and banking, research and development (R&D) as well as information technology (IT), technical, engineering and the bio-tech industry.
Finding employees with strong background knowledge, skills and the right attitude is not only crucial but is a primary concern for chief executive officers and investors.
Based on the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Talent Report 2016, Malaysia is ranked number 19 out of 61 countries in its ability to attract talent, falling from its ranking at 15th in 2015.
The objective of the IMD report is to access how countries around the globe sustain the necessary talent pool for businesses to maximise their performances.
It presents a ranking of countries on their ability to develop, attract and retain talent.
INSUFFICIENT TALENT SUPPLY
Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK) president and vice-chancellor Professor Datuk Seri Dr Md Zabid Abdul Rashid said: “Malaysia is facing a talent crisis because once again the overall ranking of Malaysia in the talent index has actually gone down.
“For the last two consecutive years our factors have not been attractive. For example, in terms of appeal factor, are we not attracting enough skillful people?
“The ability of the country’s educational institutions to meet the talent requirement of the market is enhanced in the 2005-2014 period but declined in 2015. The educational system indicator rises from 5.54 to 6.86 and then drops to 6.70.
“So, technically, the report clearly states that Malaysia is weak in terms of talent competitiveness supply,” he said.
Malaysia’s talent crisis then requires a relook at the overall landscape of education, human capital development and talent sustainability.
The research for IMD report draws on more than two decades’ worth of competitiveness-related data, including an in-depth survey of thousands of executives who were studied from the 61 countries.
Rankings are aggregated from performance in three overarching categories — investment/development; appeal; and readiness — compiled from a wide range of factors.
These included education, apprenticeship, employee training, worker motivation, language skills, cost of living, quality of life, pay, tax rates and brain-drain.
Md Zabid added that Malaysia’s supply of quality talent is limited and it will only get worse because the population is not able to support the growth of the country.
“In realising that, this year, the economic scenario is going to be challenging. Under such circumstances, it is only appropriate that all relevant higher learning institutions, be it public and private, play an important role in nurturing future talents.
“We should no longer be talking about depending on external supply or experts from other countries, instead we need to address this issue seriously.
“Undeniably, the country is still in need of foreign professionals to contribute their expertise, particularly in critical skills areas, but we must ensure that their knowledge are shared with local talents.
“What is happening now is that we bring foreigners in but we don’t ‘develop’ the locals,” said Md Zabid. This is when the universities must come in to nurture future talents.
ROLE OF UNIVERSITIES
Md Zabid thinks that universities have a role to play in ensuring that the supply of competent talents is enough.
“That is the reality. But the other challenge is whether our universities are ready to embrace the changes in the socio-economic and political environment? Are they ready to accept that tomorrow there will be no jobs in certain areas?
“For the sake of argument, say we have universities offering degrees in biochemical technology but how are universities going to respond to the fact that there will be no more demand for this one day?
“What are they going to do with the professors or the students who have yet to complete the studies?
“We can’t expect a student to stop half-way and not give them their degree qualification. It is important that universities are able to be responsive.
“Being in the higher education industry, I understand the system and structure does not allow them to change overnight. Some universities can sometimes be proactive but most of the time, they find it difficult to respond quickly.
“Universities are concerned about nurturing qualities in talents but they are not able to respond quickly not because they don’t want to but because they are saddled with structural issues that don’t allow them to make quick changes.
“This is one of the biggest challenges of universities trying to adapt to the changes in the global environment,” he added.
Md Zabid said it is time for the country to not add to the number of higher learning institutions and to start focusing in prioritised areas so that they excel.
“For example, Harvard University is best known for its business school and public policy. Do you think people look at Harvard for its medical studies?
“We are too fragmented in too many areas. In reality, if all universities are duplicating the same thing we will not be producing enough in terms of quality.
“We have this ‘follow the leader’ syndrome. For example, today, everybody is talking about big data analytics and a few universities are looking at that but none are championing big data at world class-level.
“What I observed in our tertiary education is that we are offering almost similar products by doing the same things. Has any institution produced the best course or taken this as a challenge?
“We can’t go world class if our mindset is still confined within the country,” he said.
The university is a place where you develop new knowledge and improvise the knowledge through innovation, he added.
“First, you create knowledge but at the same time you also nurture talents. We are making the biggest mistake if we don’t put a greater emphasis like budget and resources to universities, knowledge creation and supply of talents.”
PARTNERING WITH INDUSTRY
Most universities are partnering with industries for collaborations that students can put to practice theories they have learnt.
“But there is no reason to rush into partnership without identifying the area of strength that the university has or vice versa in finding suitable industry partners that is best suited to the students’ qualifications,” said Md Zabid.
He added that universities must have a group of people to create knowledge and another that knows how to apply the theory.
“But more importantly, is the next stage that we don’t have, is making value or giving value to that practice. For example, when we learn about the theory of elasticity, the knowledge application is rubber but the practicality part is how to innovate rubber in becoming synthetic rubber. That’s where we are lacking now, the knowledge to innovate.
“We want our students to have knowledge with utility. We need to find ways and means to attract our students to be passionate in their work.
They cannot become complacent but must be willing to learn and do better. The right attitude and aptitude is crucial,” he said.