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Plugging the talent leak

By Friday May 27th, 2011 No Comments

Retaining skilled workers in Malaysia should also mean getting graduating students overseas to return home.

PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was quite frank in his two discussions with American business leaders during his recent visit to the United States when it came to why he wanted them to invest in Malaysia.

After listing 10 reasons why Malaysia was the most attractive investment destination for the Americans, Najib added:

“We want to make our country a high-income developed nation, and we can only do this with your investments.

“We have 7,000 of our students studying here in the US and they want high-paying jobs back home when they graduate.

“That is the only way we can get them back.”

His frank assessment of the brain drain situation is most poignant – the need to attract graduating students is imperative and requires the urgent attention of Talent Corp, which seems to be more preoccupied with its present mission to attract home the 700,000 Malaysian diaspora all over the world.

It is estimated that there are 70,000 Malaysians studying all over the world and most of them are in Australia, Britain, Egypt, the United States and New Zealand.

Australia has probably the most Malaysian students, estimated at just under 20,000, although more than 250,000 Malaysians have studied in that country since the 1960s.

Egypt has about 11,400 of our students – most of whom are scholars sent by state governments and certain GLCs.

The British Council, in a recent report, predicted an increase in Malaysian enrolments in British courses from 10,500 in 2010 to 12,000 by 2015.

As Najib had mentioned, almost 7,000 are studying in the United States, while the New Zealand government put the number of Malaysians studying there at about 5,000.

There are also increasing numbers of Malaysians now studying in France, Germany and Ireland as well as elsewhere in the EU.

Despite all these, our overseas students make up less than 9% of the total Malaysian tertiary population.

In 2008, Malaysia had 35 universities, 37 polytechnics and 24 university colleges catering to 873,000 students locally.

However, we can safely say those studying overseas are the best talents that we have, and we can also safely say that the majority won’t come back because they will be headhunted by global corporations that hire based on merit.

We can also safely deduce that these companies pay very well.

This has been going on for the past decade and this means we have lost a whole generation of overseas students to these companies as well as to the better life that these Western countries seemingly offer.

The 70,000 students that we have overseas are our top brains and we need them back home when they graduate, more urgently than the 700,000 diaspora who migrated decades ago.

Yes, attracting back the well-known and successful Malaysians will be a quick solution to our problem of providing investing firms with enough knowledge workers.

However, most will admit that this is a short-term solution because most of the Malaysian knowledge workers, who have settled down overseas, are just too expensive.

We can only hope that these Malaysians (most of whom are by now ex-Malaysians) are willing to “come home” for lesser or equivalent pay.

In a recent roundtable discussion in the US, about 120 such Malaysians from the IT industry discussed the latest offer from the Malaysian Government and almost as one dismissed the terms as not good enough.

They found the 15% tax rate for returning Malaysians via Talent Corp not only unattractive but also an insult.

There are only two ways to attract them to come home; first is to appeal to their sense of patriotism, to urge them to help their home country.

But this method is very dicey because most who left the country to work overseas in the 1970s and 1980s did so out of anger against the country.

If this fails, we can try to offer them more money, but then this will make the whole exercise too expensive for the country’s good.

We will not get the bang for our buck.

Both methods are not very effective.

Many of those who have been approached say the lack of meritocracy in the Malaysian system and the lack of governance makes coming back very unattractive.

The Government is aware of these sentiments, thus the government and economic transformation programmes.

But, unfortunately, these monumental changes have come too late to attract the existing talents.

The easiest group of overseas Malaysians to attract home is those seeking to retire.

Many of them in their 50s – and who are multi-millionaires – are craving to come home to enjoy an easier life, take things easy and not have to work very hard.

The good thing going for this option is that they are willing to invest their wealth here.

The Government must create a special category for these mature talents based on the Malaysia My Second Home programme, including allowing those who have given up their citizenship a second chance to get back their blue IC.

Thus, a long-term and more effective policy is to get the 70,000 students to come home and fill all the vacancies the new investors can create annually.

A total of 25,000 of these brainy and talented young Malaysians studying overseas will graduate yearly and on top of this, we have 250,000 coming out from the local higher education institutions.

Their demands and expectations are going to be lower than that of those who had been working overseas for a decade.

I doubt we will ever create more than 250,000 new vacancies a year even if our economy grew by 9% a year.

And bear in mind that we have only set a target of 6% to achieve developed status by 2020.

Statistics aside, getting these overseas students home will be a new industry in itself.

They will want good housing, dream cars and good food.

Their spendings should be worth quite a bit to the Gross Domestic Product.

Getting the young graduates to come home is as much a talent retention as making sure that local graduates do not leave the country.

Why not?

After all, it’s a more doable task than attracting back those who left decades ago.

> Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan told his son, who is studying overseas, to be a global worker in Hong Kong or Shanghai, but the younger Wong wants to do that at home.

Source : The Star

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