Study out­lines skills chal­lenges that Malaysia needs to ad­dress

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SUNBIZ -

PETAL­ING JAYA: Up­dat­ing Malaysia’s ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum, stronger co­or­di­na­tion be­tween gov­ern­ment, in­dus­try and ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, and sup­port for work­ers in mid-ca­reers to up­grade their skills are some of the de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties Malaysia needs to ad­dress the coun­try’s skills chal­lenges and help the econ­omy to­wards its goal of achiev­ing high-in­come sta­tus by 2020.

These are among the rec­om­men­da­tions put for­ward by the Sin­ga­pore Man­age­ment Uni­ver­sity (SMU) fol­low­ing its year-long study in part­ner­ship with global fi­nan­cial ser­vices firm JPMor­gan, on the skills chal­lenges faced by the Asean economies of Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines and Thai­land.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, Malaysia’s main skills chal­lenges – a lack of rel­e­vant skills train­ing, out­dated cur­ricu­lum and poor soft skills, espe­cially with re­gard to the de­cline in English pro­fi­ciency – all re­late to the school-in­dus­try gap, which is the dis­con­nect be­tween the skills that ed­u­ca­tional and train­ing in­sti­tu­tions are im­part­ing and what the in­dus­try is seek­ing.

This is par­tic­u­larly preva­lent in the Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) field. Ac­cord­ing to the 11th Malaysia Plan, which charts the de­vel­op­ment of the na­tion be­tween 2016 and 2020, about 60% of the 1.5 mil­lion new jobs ex­pected to be cre­ated dur­ing this pe­riod re­quire TVET-re­lated skills. But in­ter­views with key stake­hold­ers con­ducted dur­ing the study re­vealed that TVET in­sti­tu­tions have not been able to pro­duce grad­u­ates with the right skill sets to meet in­dus­try de­mand.

The study shows that the schoolin­dus­try gap is also ob­served in key growth sec­tors like oil and gas and elec­tron­ics and elec­tri­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing, with the trend espe­cially pro­nounced in in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy (ICT), the third-largest gross do­mes­tic prod­uct con­trib­u­tor to Malaysia’s ser­vices sec­tor.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional ICT As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia, or Pikom, only 10% of new en­trants to the ICT sec­tor are em­ploy­able, with the re­main­ing 90% re­quir­ing sub­stan­tial train­ing be­fore they are work-ready. The sit­u­a­tion is com­pounded by the fact that the ICT sec­tor is rapidly evolv­ing, and the cur­ricu­lum of­fered in lo­cal ICT in­sti­tu­tions is not keep­ing pace.

A cur­ricu­lum re­vamp would mark a crit­i­cal first step to­wards help­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in Malaysia meet the de­mands of key growth in­dus­tries, the study notes. In par­tic­u­lar, en­hanced em­pha­sis on sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) ed­u­ca­tion is cru­cial given the coun­try’s am­bi­tions to carve out a com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion in in­dus­tries like ICT.

Train­ing in cog­ni­tive skills like cre­ativ­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which are as­sets in a knowl­edge-based econ­omy, is also im­por­tant, as is the need to strengthen the pro­fi­ciency in English, the lin­gua franca of mod­ern busi­nesses, it said.

To en­sure the cur­ricu­lum stays rel­e­vant, the study rec­om­mends tighter co­or­di­na­tion be­tween gov­ern­ment, in­dus­try and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

“An au­ton­o­mous agency with a strong man­date and au­thor­ity could be con­sid­ered to pro­vide a one-stop ser­vice in skills train­ing,” the study said.

This could take the form of a strength­ened Ta­len­tCorp, the gov­ern­ment agency that helps em­ploy­ers to solve their ta­lent needs, or a sep­a­rate agency, it added.

The study also points to a need for stronger em­pha­sis on con­tin­u­ous and life­long learn­ing to help work­ers stay em­ploy­able through­out their ca­reers. It notes that there cur­rently aren’t suf­fi­cient op­por­tu­ni­ties for those in mid-ca­reers to up­grade their skills; this group of work­ers could po­ten­tially be a source of ta­lent for the new growth in­dus­tries.

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