Malaysia Boleh!

Malaysia is in good economic shape, being ranked the second best country in the ASEAN region for growing business, according to Grant Thornton Global Dynamism Index. Also, at the time of print, the country was at the cusp of the most divisive elections yet. HRM examines how the country is delivering the right mix of talent for the continued success of the country

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has alluded to the spirit of “Malaysia Boleh” or “Malaysia Can”, when describing the country’s progressive economic strategies. Malaysia continues to be a growing knowledge and service-based economy but challenges including a lack of workforce planning and insufficient investment in staff training and development could present barriers to progress in 2013, recruitment consultancy Hays has found.

“There needs to be more focus placed on identifying future skill requirements as well as on investment in workforce innovation and upskilling the existing workforce,” says Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Malaysia and Singapore.

Also, the HR function in many organisations in Malaysia is still viewed as an administrative one. That perceived lack of credibility leaves fewer people wanting to go into the profession.

“We are, however, moving in the right direction and glad to see that HR is increasingly being viewed as a value-add and strategic complement to the business in mainly multinational companies,” says Kristoffer Paludan, Manager, Michael Page.

Developing a talent pipeline

Corporations in Malaysia constantly need quality talent to drive the country’s national economic transformation programme (ETP). But finding that talent can be difficult.

“Indeed, Malaysia has a challenge not only in terms of the current organisational context but also to build a steady and reliable pipeline of capabilities for future needs and aspirations,” says Nora Manaf, Senior Executive Vice President – Group Human Capital, Maybank Berhad.

In this respect, the formation of TalentCorp Malaysia is testament to the close partnership between industry and government. The body’s mandate includes providing incentives to bring skilled Malaysians back from overseas, and also building other channels to create a smooth supply of deployable talent in specific vocational areas.

One of the programmes that telco Maxis participates in is the Scholarship Talent and Retention scheme (STAR). This programme enables Public Service Department scholars to serve their scholarship bonds in the private sector and develop their careers with the best Malaysian employers. Through the STAR scheme, Maxis has been able to tap into a pool of previously inaccessible high-achieving scholars from world-class universities.

The telecommunications giant is also able to tap on graduate talent through TalentCorp’s Structured Internship Programme (SIP). The SIP is a collaborative effort that encourages companies to provide a high-quality, practical learning experience through internships to students from local public and private institutions of higher education. It aims to prepare local graduates for relevant work in specific industries, making them job-ready on graduation.

“We received TalentCorp’s endorsement of the Maxis Internship Programme, which renders Maxis eligible for double tax deductions on the monthly allowances paid to our Malaysian interns from local universities,” says Kala Kularajah Sundram, Head of Talent and Organisation, Maxis.

Since its official start in 2006, Maxis has nurtured more than 400 interns. “Companies such as ours and others have indeed greatly benefited from working with TalentCorp,” Kala says.

Welcoming expatriate talent

With changes in the global economic landscape directing a focus towards Asia, there has been increasing interest in expatriate opportunities within Malaysia. For example, the number of expats that Maybank Malaysia has employed since 2008 has increased by threefold in recent years.

A recent survey by International Living, a monthly newsletter for the global expatriate community, even ranked Malaysia as the third best country for expatriates to retire in, closely behind Ecuador and Panama.

“Friendly people, good food, low cost of living, and lots of activities make expatriates call Malaysia their second home,” Manaf explains. The government has also been actively attracting the best talents from abroad through the Malaysia My Second Home Programme, through which any non-citizen meeting certain criteria can qualify for a 10-year Social Visit Pass with a Multiple Entry Visa.

The Malaysian Government has recently rolled out changes to its Immigration Department. These include the creation of a new Expatriate Services Division. It aims to further facilitate the entry and retention of foreign talent, promote greater ease of doing business and attract more foreign investment.

The new agency will manage services related to in-demand expatriate workers. As part of the pre-launch activities, the government issued Residence Pass-Talent (RP-T) status to 21 corporate leaders in “National Key Economic Area” sectors such as business services, oil and gas, financial services and education, says Manaf.

“This type of Malaysian visa allows people to work for up to 10 years and will be offered to expats with the right skills signalling continuing demand for expat talent,” she explains.

Rewarding talent

HR concepts like pay-for-performance and recognition for talent are at different levels of adoption in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as other ASEAN countries.

“In more collectivist societies and emerging economies, it is generally more difficult to implement pay for performance and capabilities, where the pay practice can be deemed to challenge cultural norms,” explains Manaf.

“In this regard, an overarching agreement on principles of fairness, recognition for discretionary effort, and motivation is critical for a rewards system to work prior to implementation of pay-for-performance systems,” she adds.

Pay is not the number one driver in Malaysia, says Paludan, noting that that honour falls to outlined progression. “There is a significant difference in expectation in terms of salary but that is based on exchange rates and cost of living,” she adds.

Manaf also agrees that the workforce in Malaysia has different expectations in terms of pay mixes. However, there are broad principles of rewards which Maybank adopts regionally.

“Maybank Group is a firm believer of total rewards and providing an employee value proposition (EVP) that goes beyond monetary rewards,” says Nora.

From a rewards perspective, the group’s total rewards encompass a whole suite of elements ranging from cash to non-cash elements. Included as part of the total rewards package are base pay, variable bonuses, incentives, recognition programmes, work life balance and an array of benefits programmes.

“From a total EVP perspective, the bank continuously invests in the development of our talents through accelerated development assignments – for example, international assignments in our 20 overseas locations, assignments on transformation projects, advanced management programmes in renowned educational institutions worldwide, and executive mentoring by expert leadership coaches,” says Manaf.

“We believe that facilitating employees’ career growth creates job and employer satisfaction that retains our talents,” she adds.

Preparing future generations of talent

Based on recent statistics by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education, graduate unemployment is currently at 24% and is a perennial issue which the government is actively working to improve on.

“Key soft skills competencies such as leadership, communication, tenacity, self-confidence, and a high concern for achievement are amongst the areas identified requiring improvement in graduates,” explains Nora Manaf, Senior Executive Vice President – Group Human Capital, Maybank Berhad.

“Many employers would like to see more well-rounded graduates who are not only doing well academically but also demonstrate emotional intelligence, maturity, and agility,” she adds.

Maybank has shifted from the traditional form of talent development of classroom learning and adopted the 70:20:10 (experiential: coaching: formal learning) development philosophy. The bank’s focus on mobilising experiential development interventions such as international assignments, mentoring, job rotations and job enlargements has seen an improvement in readiness of talents taking key roles as well as performance level of talent.

“Forty-four percent of our international assignees, for example, are Gen Ys,” says Manaf. “This is aligned with our aspiration to develop a large pool of talent with a regional mindset and orientation, which may be more difficult for a tertiary education institution to train for.”

Maybank operates in 20 countries and as of today, the bank has a total of 91 international assignment positions.


Top 10 Talent trends for Malaysia in 2013

1 Use of expats

The new Expatriate Services Division will officially open in March 2013, managing services related to in-demand expatriate workers. The government has also started issuing Residence Pass-Talent (RP-T) to top foreign talent allowing them to work for up to 10 years before renewing their pass.

2 Economic outlook

Domestic demand for goods and services strengthened in 2012 and is expected to increase further in 2013. The Malaysian Government expects GDP growth of up to five per cent if global conditions improve.

3 Continuing skills shortage

Skills needed in Malaysia cover both white-collar and blue-collar roles, including information and communications technology (ICT) and knowledge workers, those with finance skill-sets, as well as building sector trades, particularly welders.

4 Staff turnover

The outsourcing sector is still seeing higher rates of staff churn than many others sectors and this is expected to continue next year as many younger workers in this sector are increasingly mobile and searching for better pay and conditions in new job roles.

5 Rising salaries:

Malaysia introduced a minimum wage for the private sector with effect from January 1, 2013. Overall, salaries are expected to see modest growth over the coming year with the largest increases expected for a range of “in-demand” roles such as ICT roles, some manufacturing jobs, engineering roles, banking and finance roles and jobs in the pharmaceutical sector.

6 Focus on female workforce

The Malaysian Government has set a target of increasing female workforce participation to 55% by 2015. It is currently about 47%. “Malaysia has a unique problem,” says Chris Mead, Regional Director of Hays in Malaysia and Singapore. “Unlike other Asian countries where women leave the workforce to raise families and then return later in their lives, Malaysian women tend not to return.”

7 Need for staff development

According to the report, Learning, Talent and Innovation in Asia, compiled by the Hong Kong Institute of HR Management and the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Malaysia should follow the Chinese example of investing in talent strategies and helping staff develop business skills, particularly leadership and people management capabilities.

8 Public investment

Malaysia’s public investment increased by almost 30% in the quarter to June 2012 largely off the back of US$450 billion worth of new infrastructure projects. These projects will continue to take shape in 2013, creating jobs and enhancing domestic spending.

9 Social media

Malaysian job hunters, particularly Generation Y and Generaion X candidates, are increasingly comfortable using social media as part of their job search and personal branding efforts.

10 Unemployment low

Going into 2013, the unemployment rate across the Asia-Pacific region will continue to hover above 10%, but in Malaysia the rate remains very low by global standards, at around 3%.


Source: Hays


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