Malaysian PM calls for knowledge workers

Country's political head wants to develop Malaysia's human capital; acknowledges government must recognize changing ICT marketplace and developments.

PUTRJAYA--Malaysia needs to develop its human capital by emphasizing public and private sector cooperation and produce knowledge workers for the country's future progress.

Speaking to the media at the recently concluded Multimedia Super Corridor International Advisory Panel (MSCIAP), Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said only by developing the nation's human capital can Malaysia be ready to produce knowledge workers who are productive, so the country can move higher up the knowledge value chain.

"The training of knowledge workers, should not be concentrated [only] at the tertiary level but [also] at the secondary [school] level," Abdullah said Friday. "The curriculum that will be used for this purpose will have to be developed, and we would certainly engage the private sector to give us ideas."

The annual MSCIAP meeting, which took place last week in Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital, saw the gathering of 34 international advisors comprising notable ICT companies, academicians and think-tanks. Since its inception in 1997, the MSCIAP discussions have provided counsel to the government in developing high-tech hub MSC Malaysia, and the country's ICT industry. The bulk of this year's discussions centered on the theme "Taking MSC Malaysia Global: Developing knowledge infrastructure and creating talent".

Abdullah said the IAP members had provided much valuable input at the meetings, amongst which was the realization that the government needs to recognize the changing marketplace and new developments that have taken place in the ICT world.

He added that the IAP members emphasized the importance of collaboration, especially in the R&D (research and development) sector, and that cooperation with the private sector would help local tertiary institutions understand the changing needs of the industry.

"I have given [IAP members] the assurance we are committed to implementing the various recommendations that have been made," Malaysia's prime minister said.

Abdullah also revealed that the Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Education, which oversee Malaysia's tertiary and secondary education curriculum, respectively, have been tasked to look into the details of this development.

Less talk, more action
The MSCIAP meeting also saw three industry roundtable discussions conducted between selected IAP members, local industry players, academicians and government officials. The sessions were aimed at eliciting feedback from all stakeholders on three areas: enhancing human capital, developing knowledge-based enterprises, and bringing MSC Malaysia going global.

Industry observers familiar with the proceedings told ZDNet Asia that while the issues raised at the industry dialogue sessions were pertinent, most of the discussions were not new and had been broached previously at various forums, including past MSCIAP meetings.

One delegate at the meetings, said: "It is still refreshing to hear new ideas and input from the international panelists, but it's time that the government focused on action.

"Some of the questions and ideas mooted are beginning to sound repetitive, like a broken record," he said. "If past solutions have not been implemented, we should not raise the same questions year after year, at the MSCIAP."

One common theme discussed, said the delegate, was that Malaysia's severe skills shortage which impedes the country from becoming a successful R&D nation and a regional hub for multinationals (MNCs).

"Reform has to come by addressing the very core of the problem--which is the education system, from primary schools right up to tertiary and post-graduate levels," the delegate said.

"In order to create the right incentive to transfer intellectual property (IP) or technologies, there must be people equipped with the right sort of skill to receive it, and the supply of these people must exceed that of the demand," he said.

Mathavan Chandran, group CEO of homegrown bio technology company InfoValley Life Sciences, noted that to meaningfully address human capital development, Malaysia needs to review the entire educational system at three levels: secondary, tertiary and on-the-job.

"The first two levels are primarily about knowledge building," Mathavan told ZDNet Asia on the sidelines of the MSCIAP meeting. "The aim is to build as much depth as possible. After that, the industry needs to step in and help graduates translate knowledge into meaningful output on-the-job."

A council member of Technopreneur Association of Malaysia, Mathavan explained that existing industry-academic collaboration cannot be considered true integration as it is merely an "interface" between the two.

"For the industry and academia to be fully integrated, there needs to be more than just exchange programs and placements of personnel between the two [sectors]" he said. "There needs to be an ecosystem where both parties are involved with each other, and forged together with long-term goals.

"For example, at InfoValley, we have researchers from Multimedia University working toward their advanced degrees by undertaking research [alongside] us," Mathavan said.

"At the end, these candidates continuously upgrade their knowledge whilst gaining their advanced qualification at the same time," he said, adding that this is an example "of what integration is about".

He also noted that industry players are arguably the best people to lead the way in this form of collaboration because of their exposure to market demands and industry best practices.

"To encourage meaningful human capital development, industry players in their relevant fields of expertise need to have real contact hours with students in the universities," Mathavan said. "In doing so, students can be exposed to what is out there in the real world and this will lead to a true symbiosis between the two that will benefit both parties."

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.