Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs to reinvent its education system to adapt to the knowledge economy, which has led to a sharp reduction in unskilled jobs and spike in demand for data analysts.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, said Malaysia needs to retool its education and skills, and experiment across the spectrum, in positioning itself in the new economy.

“Formal education is outdated because of the speed of new knowledge. Companies do not spend on ‘on the job’ training, because of cost cuts and staff turnover,” he said during his presentation at the NCCIM Economic Forum 2017 yesterday.

Between 2007 and 2015, the loss of unskilled jobs was 55% relative to other jobs while demand for data analysts over the last five years has increased 372%.

In the global supply chain, old economy companies are quickly losing their edge as digitisation moves faster than physical goods while unskilled jobs will be quickly replaced by robotics due to the fast adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Moving up the global value chain is about moving up knowledge intensity. If you don’t get smarter you won’t get the business.

“We are already plugged into the global value chain. We are very successful in that area but we cannot stay where we are. Remaining still is no longer an option. We need to move from tasks to value added growth to high value added production. In order to do that, we need to learn to learn.”

Sheng said the Malaysian economy is doing well but faces many challenges, including subdued energy prices, growing trade protectionism, geopolitical tensions and is still very reliant on foreign labour.

“Are we ready for the new economy? The way trade is growing is phenomenal but the new economy’s challenges are great and very complicated politically because technology is great for us as it gives us whatever we want but at the cost of our jobs,” he said.

When education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality, populism and major political upheaval.

“What the new economy tells us is that robotics or AI (artificial intelligence) calls for Education 4.0, which means that we have to learn for life,” he said.

Sheng noted that Malaysia has successfully moved quietly into education services, medical tourism, higher quality foods, all through upgrading skills, branding and marketing.

“But formal education has become bureaucratised, whereas we are not spending enough on upgrading our labour force, prefering to hire imported labour,” he said.

Although Malaysia cannot compete in terms of scale and speed, especially against giants such as China, it can compete in terms of scope with strength in diversity, soft skills and adaptability.

“We are winners … but have we got the mindset?” Sheng questioned.

He said Malaysia must upgrade its physical technology through research and development, harness its unique social technology and digitise its business model in order to create wealth.

While the government can help, he added, true success comes from community self-help irrespective of race or creed, and retired baby boomers who have wealth of experience must mentor the youth to start thinking about the new economy.

Eva Yeong, sunbiz@thesundaily.com
Related Links:

 Andrew Sheng – Institute for New Economic Thinking

Andrew Sheng
is a distinguished fellow at Fung Global Institute, chief adviser …
member of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia.

MALAYSIA should leverage on social technology, which is its true strength, … Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, who is a distinguished fellow at Asia Global Institute, … the new economy as it involves lifelong learning to adapt, innovate and create. … To enhance the skills of the civil service, he pointed out Singapore’s …

Andrew Sheng – Project Syndicate

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable …

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Huge Civil Service Size, Attractive Emoluments and Benefits are costing Malaysia !


Prized job: While long-term security like the pension scheme free healthcare and easy loans have been among the perks of joining the public service, many job seekers now want to become civil servants because it pays well. — Bernama

The attractive emoluments and benefits in the public sector are costing the country, say experts.

THE civil service had never been *Sofea Mohd’s dream job but in the current competi­tive job market, the final year Economics student at a local public university is seriously weighing the option. Especially since she was offered a temporary position at a ministry where she had just completed an internship.

“My seniors advised me to take the offer – one said she had to wait years before she got a job, another said he had to work in a fastfood restaurant and sell pens and children’s books on the street, so I thought I should listen to them and just take it.

“They say my chances of being hired permanently will be higher then,” says the 22-year-old.

The main reason she decided to accept the offer, however, is the pay, she tells, “It’s not as low as people say. I will get a daily wage but I can earn at least RM2,000 a month. The pay for permanent staff is of course better.”

Her friend *Azman Jailani dreams of starting his own business but is also planning to join the public sector after graduation.

“That’s what my parents want me to do. They say there is more security in the civil service. I can start my business later if I want,” says the final year business studies student.

With the academic year coming to a close at most tertiary institution in the country, many graduating students are preparing for the next chapter in their life. And like these two, many are looking at the civil service for a job guarantee.

It was reported recently that the Public Service Commission received 1.56 million applications last year to fill 25,046 job vacancies in the public sector. In 2015, the PSC received 1.63 million applications for 24,606 vacancies.

While the attraction of a government job is well-noted – long-term security; a pension scheme; cheap, if not free, healthcare; easy loans – many job seekers are now drawn to the public sector because of its pay.

Shamsuddin: ‘Duplications impact the private sector. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays.’

The pay for the public sector, especially for entry-level jobs, is on par with the private sector, says Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.

“It has to be noted that public sector wages have risen, in some cases outstripping the wages in the private sector. And that is only the basic pay. When you add the different allowances and bonuses, the public sector’s salaries – perhaps except for those at senior management level – could be more attractive than that of the private sector.

“Then there are also many benefits for civil servants such as house loans and healthcare benefits for them and family that continue even after they retire.

“In the private sector, the health insurance coverage ends when you leave a company’s employment or retire,” he says.

But the attractive emolument and benefits in the public sector have come at a price for the country, say economists, one that Malaysia will not be able to afford in the future. In fact, some believe it is already hurting Malaysia’s economy – it has been reported that it will now cost the nation more than 40% of government revenue to maintain the public sector.

Experts have pointed to its sheer size as a reason for the burgeoning bill of the civil service.

In February, Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani told a local Chinese daily in an interview that it is a growing challenge for the Government to run the public sector due to the rising costs.

“One of the issues that we have to address is the ever-increasing government operating costs and expenses.

“For example, we have about 1.6 million civil servants, which is one of the world’s largest proportion of civil service,” Johari was quoted as saying.

With a population of 31 million, this means Malaysia has a ratio of one civil servant to 19 people, said the news report, which cited corresponding ratios for other countries in comparison: Singapore (1 to 71 people), Indonesia (1:110), China (1:108) and Britain (1:118).

The reported size of the civil service caused a stir, with the Public Service Department director-general Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman refuting criticisms that the civil service is oversized by reiterating Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa’s statement that the size of the civil service is a matter of definition under the Federal Constitution, which includes the police, the armed forces, and healthcare and education personnel.

 

As Zainal Rahim told the press, the actual size of the civil service would only be 682,790 should Malaysia adopt the same calculation used by other countries. This would make the ratio of civil servant to population as 1 to 44, instead of 1:19, he said.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, meanwhile, put  Malaysia’s employment in the public sector as only 10.8% of the total labour force in 2013.

But as Johari highlighted, the fact is, emoluments make up the biggest portion of the Government’s operating expenditure, and that cost has been and will keep expanding.

“In 2003, the pay of public servants totalled RM22bil but it increased to RM74bil by 2016. In 2003, the pension of civil servants was RM5.9bil and in 2016 the amount soared to RM19bil.”

This year, some RM77.4bil have been allocated in the 2017 Budget for public servants’ pay and some RM21bil for the pension and gratuity payments of retirees, which is about 45% of the allocated operating expenditure of the country.

The challenge to cover the spiking cost is intensified by the declining Government reve­nue, the vernacular newspaper reported Johari as saying.

“In particular, revenues from the palm oil and natural gas industries, which generated profits of about RM65bil in 2014, fell sharply to RM30bil in 2016,” he was quoted.

Concurring, economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng says the rising operating expenditure is also a concern due to its impact on the country’s development.

“Over the last decade or so, we are seeing the operating expenditure in the government budget expand to the extent that we are not able to expand the development expenditure,” says Dr Yeah, who is an economics professor at Sunway Business School.

Some RM214.8bil was allocated for operating expenditure in the 2017 Budget while only RM46bil was allocated for development.

“By right, the development expenditure should be half of the budget if we want a dynamic economy as we see in many countries, especially in the developed countries,” he adds.

“But in Malaysia, the development expenditure has shrunk to as low as 20% of the budget. This will have a multiplier effect on our economy.”

He argues we should be spending more on our development, both in increasing the quantum of development expenditure and at the same time focusing the development expenditure on the right sectors – not just hard infrastructure but also soft infrastructure like social and human capital development.

“This is important in improving the quality of our workforce and their skills, in terms of boosting the talent development that can push the frontiers of growth in the country, especially in science and technology and other emerging knowledge and industries.

“The Government needs to attract investments in these new sectors, so that is why development expenditure is one of the key contributions to spark growth in those sectors and accelerate the growth of the economy towards becoming high end, high value.”

He points out, various studies have shown that the country’s civil service is big, with a low productivity rate.

“Regardless of how we calculate the total, we definitely have more people in the public sector than necessary, and studies have shown that labour productivity is quite low for the public sector.”

Rightsizing the civil service is the way to go, he asserts, but it should be treated as part of the continuous effort of improving the efficiency of its delivery service.

“The key is to be able to provide the services required by the people optimally, which is at the smallest number and lowest cost possible without sacrificing the quality of service,” he says, stressing that the underlying note is that “we should be getting bigger banks for our bucks, that is the taxpayers’ money.”

Crucially, Dr Yeah adds, while rightsizing the civil service is important to sustain growth, it is important that we rightsize without disrupting economic growth in terms of the employment situation in the country.

“We have to ensure meaningful employment for all while sustaining a low unemployment rate so that we can maintain the domestic economic growth momentum.”

Any prudent government would seize the opportunity to rightsize and enhance the public sector efficiency, Dr Yeah says.

“It is important to rightsize gradually and incrementally at a pace that does not disrupt the economy.

“Because the risk is that if we are hit by a downturn and the government is forced to undertake the pending cuts then that would be more painful and damaging to the economy. There would be a loss of productive capital when we face that kind of situation,” he says.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, immediate past president of the Malaysian Economic Association (MEA) also believes it is time for Malaysia to rightsize the civil service due to the huge sum of civil servants’ salaries and pensions in the government expenditure.

As he had told the “Economic Governance: Public Sector Governance” forum in February, it could be a problem for Malaysia if it runs into a financial crisis and rightsizing is “better sooner than later” if Malaysia wanted to avoid falling into a Greece-like crisis, where the European country had to cut salaries and state pensions for its civil service.

“It is worthwhile to do it now while we can still afford it.

“I think we should do it gradually. It is kinder to do it now with incentives than to suddenly cut their salaries and pensions at a time when they can least afford it,” he was reported as saying.

Mohd Sheriff, who is also the former Finance Ministry secretary-general and Economic Planning Unit director-general, points out that there are ways of rightsizing in a humane and caring manner including providing free courses on skills development that will make people employable in the right sector like ICT, English, basic accounting, corporate law and others.

He says with the right skills, many would even leave the service on their own accord to improve their lives.

Dr Yeah agrees.

“While their pay is comparable to the private sector, many of the second layer and support jobs in the civil service have low long-term prospect,” he says.

“If their skills are improved, they and their families could get better prospects for the future. And if they are forced to look at other opportunities in the private sector or in entrepreneurship, in the end they could be better off,” he says, pointing to some of the initiatives already taken to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency, especially under Pemandu.

Dr Lee Hwok Aun, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the Government should explore different ways to raise more revenue, such as by introducing a capital gains tax.

As a former lecturer at a Malaysian public university, Dr Lee says he can appreciate the enormous difficulty of rightsizing the civil service.

“The projected increasing burden of civil service salaries and proven continuous increase of operational expenditures in overall federal government spending, at the expense of investment, are major causes for concern. And the size of the civil service matters, but the long-term issues are even more complex,” he says.

For the civil service to be effective, nimble and efficient, it will need to attract and retain talent in certain sectors – which means paying higher salaries, especially for key positions such as teachers, he says.

As he sees it, the main problem is over-bureaucratisation.

“There are various unnecessary administrative posts, which add cost and tend to perpetuate procedures and heavy paperwork. I can attest to this from my experience working in a public university. An overhaul of administrative strategy and operations is probably necessary in many departments, before making any staff reductions. If not, when staff retire or relocate, the same amount of tedious work becomes distributed among fewer people, causing service and morale to decline,” he says, adding there will also be resistance from civil servants who stand to lose their pension if they leave.

“We should be understanding and merciful about this situation. Forms of compensation, or the option to convert from public sector pension to an EPF lump sum, could be explored.”

MEF’s Shamsuddin concurs, pointing out that there are also a lot of duplications of service and work at the federal level and state level and so on.

“A good example is tourism where there is a tourism agency at the federal level while the state has its own tourism Exco and office.

Duplications impact the private sector as it is a problem to deal with different government agencies to get something done. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays,” says Shamsuddin.

Dr Yeah says it is imperative for the Government to enhance the efficiency of the delivery service and effectiveness of the public sector across the board, such as putting them to work in priority areas and where they will have the highest impact.

“Crucially, when we focus on improving productivity through redeployment, retraining and re-skilling, quite naturally, we will be rightsizing.”

It can even be a win-win situation for the public servants as a smaller number of employees that commensurate with a higher productivity will mean an increase in profit, so the civil servants can receive higher wages, he notes.

Still, Dr Yeah feels the public sector’s emolument bill should be capped.

“We need to ensure that the public sector wages do not exceed the workers’ productivity or rate of inflation, as that itself will lead to a productivity decline.

“We should cascade it so that the wages in private sector could rise in tandem with thepublic sector,” he says, adding that at the same time the size of the civil service needs to be reduced. “If we don’t rightsize and instead create more civil service jobs, it will be a downward spiral.”

The Government also needs to enhance Malaysia’s investment climate and attract more foreign investments, he adds, “The strategy of the country should be to push for private sector growth, especially in new and emerging areas which would boost demand for highly skilled labour.”

Ultimately, says Dr Yeah, the public service sector should not be the job reserve or employer of the last resort in the country.

To achieve this, we need to stop the disproportionate interest in the public sector which is not healthy for the economy, he says.

“We should be steering the workforce towards the private sector or they should become entrepreneurs so that they can raise their income opportunities and create jobs.”

The tightening of the job market can lead to higher investment, higher productivity and higher wages, Dr Yeah notes, “This is the virtuous cycle we need to kickstart to sustain an economic growth for the country at a higher level.”

*not real name

Next: Some of the initiatives already taken by the Government to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency.

Source: The Star/ANN by Hariati Azizan

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Success factors: higher education, right skills and knowledge


Higher Education

Young people are aware that career success is only possible if they pursue higher studies and are armed with the right skills and knowledge.

AS the demand for highly skilled and knowledgeable workers intensifies in the knowledge-based economy, so does the demand for higher education.

Indeed, higher education plays an increasingly significant role in this dynamic and integrated world economy.

There is much evidence in research literature that show the positive correlation between higher education and economic development.

In addition, pursuing higher education is seen as an important pathway to career success. However, as tertiary studies become more accessible to the masses, there are concerns on the value of higher education.

Based on the classification of the Education Ministry, the higher education sector in Malaysia consists primarily of universities, university colleges, colleges, polytechnics and community colleges.

An online survey was conducted recently where 298 respondents participated. More than 80% of the respondents were students in public and private higher education institutions in Malaysia while the rest were random respondents.

The data from this survey was collected through the UTAR (Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman) Opinion Poll (http://poll.utar.edu.my/), an online platform developed by the varsity to collect public opinion on current issues, particularly issues faced by youth in the country.

Higher Education_sklls
Higher Education_Quality

Seeking jobs

The survey revealed that the two reason for pursuing a university or college education were to get a decent job and earn a higher salary.

The value of higher education in providing access to improved jobs, better earnings and career prospects is an important driving force for people to invest in higher education.

Other important values of higher education as highlighted in the survey include promoting social mobility and gaining self-fulfilment.

In the survey, when respondents were asked about what kind of knowledge should be emphasised and delivered by higher education, students and non-student respondents gave somewhat different feedback.

Student respondents placed great emphasis on the provision of professional knowledge that would prepare them with the information and knowledge required for a professional career while career-related knowledge came in second.

For non-student respondents (consisting of respondents working in different professions and 67% of them have a degree), they are of the opinion that higher education should firstly prepare students for good citizenship and to be well-versed in general knowledge.

This was then followed by the preparation for a professional career and a job.

The survey also revealed that vocational or technical knowledge to prepare students with technical skills has not been seen as a priority for higher education.

Due to the burgeoning number of higher education institutions, particularly private higher education institutions in the country since the introduction of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act in 1996, higher education has changed from a social institution to an industry and is increasingly perceived as a profit-making industry.

About 75% of the respondents felt that higher education was becoming “commercialised” and profit-oriented, thus creating the varying standards of higher education institutions, and the programmes offered in the country.

The diverse quality has somehow contributed to the diminishing value of a higher education degree.

It has also led to the distorting job market signalling effect of an academic degree in the employment market.

Hence, more efforts in screening and filtering are required during recruitment to help employers hire the right candidate with the relevant requirements.

In order to ensure the quality of higher education in the country, it is crucial for the authorities to develop a reliable and effective mechanism to closely monitor and assess the quality of teaching and learning in higher education institutions in Malaysia.

“Too-examination oriented” is the general perception of the respondents (78.3%t) on the current higher education system in Malaysia.

This is associated with the feedback that higher education institutions should provide more practical training opportunities and industry exposure to students.

The curriculum design should consider incorporating innovative teaching and learning methods. This would include problem-based learning, project-based assignments, case studies or experiential learning, rather than the traditional lecture-based method.

Internship is found to be an effective way for students to gain hands-on learning experience.

Non-student respondents were asked to give comments and their perception on the performance of students in the higher education institutions.

The majority of them (80.6%) felt that our students are lacking in international exposure.

It would be a disadvantage if we are not preparing our students and equipping them with global competence skills to compete in the global economy.

International internships.

Many universities around the world, particularly universities in Europe and North America, have incorporated into their curriculum at least one semester of study abroad or international internships.

Compared to these universities, we are lagging behind in this aspect.

Higher education institutions in Malaysia should participate more actively in internationalisation initiatives, particularly international student exchange programmes to provide students the opportunity to acquire global experience during their studies.

Another major comment is related to students’ lack of good communication skills.

In fact, this is not a new finding. We often read reports or hear comments about the inadequacies of our students in communication skills.

It is not so much of a language barrier, but more related to the capability to express and deliver one’s idea and messages clearly and correctly.

Interestingly, when student respondents were asked to reveal what skills they acquired in university or college, communication skills topped the list as the skills most acquired.

This is something that needs further investigation.

The higher education system is undergoing dramatic changes due to many underlying factors, particularly technology innovation, emergence of knowledge economy, shifting demographics and globalisation.

The role and value of higher education has somehow changed as well.

It is important for us to review the best practices to prepare students to succeed in the increasingly dynamic world and to produce the “right” knowledge workers for society.

This article sheds light on some of the issues in Malaysian higher education as perceived by students and general respondents.

By Prof Cheng Ming Yu The Star/Asia News Network

The writer is a Professor at the Department of Economics, Faculty of Accountancy and Management at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. This is the final article in a series of STEM for life-themed articles published in our pullout.

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