Malaysia faces STEM talent drain as salaries stagnant

Amidst Malaysia’s evolving job landscape and the rise of the gig economy, stagnant salaries threaten to undermine STEM talent retention.
By: | March 28, 2024

Salaries for fresh graduates in Malaysia have shown negligible growth over the past decade, remaining stagnant despite shifts in industry demands and economic dynamics.

Dr Nor Shahidah, Senior Lecturer in Geological Engineering and Soil Mechanics at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, emphasised the necessity of establishing salary structures that align with professional standards. She stressed the importance of competitive remuneration in attracting and retaining talent, particularly within the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“The discourse surrounding the remuneration of STEM graduates has become increasingly open, highlighting that salaries have not substantially increased from those offered to individuals starting their careers 10-20 years ago,” she said.

She pointed out that the rise of the gig economy has diverted interest away from traditional STEM careers, offering higher salaries and greater flexibility. This shift in preference poses challenges for industries reliant on STEM expertise.

Echoing these concerns, Rahmut Muhad Anuar, an engineer with three decades of experience, lamented the lack of salary progression throughout his career. He emphasised the need for governmental intervention to compel organisations to offer more competitive compensation packages for fresh graduates.

“Most fresh graduates are assigned unrelated work outside their field, such as data entry, which does not allow them to learn or improve their skills,” he explained. “If they are not skilled enough, they cannot increase their salary.”

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This lack of skilled engineers is a national concern. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has previously acknowledged the shortage despite the quality of engineering graduates produced in Malaysia, reported New Straits Times.

Megat Johari Megat Mohd Noor, President of the Malaysian Society for Engineering and Technology, believes the answer lies in specialisation, explaining, “As it stands now, the industry needs engineering technologists who specialise in specific fields, but we have an abundance of engineers who are only proficient in theory.”