M'sians enjoy greater salaries, opportunities

Malaysia's ICT industry remains dynamic with competitive salaries, but higher expectations could put pressure on the country's competitiveness.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Opportunities still abound for IT professionals in Malaysia, but higher expectations from jobseekers could affect the country's competitive edge over the longer term.

Malaysia's ICT job market has been buoyant, with brisk demand for both experienced jobseekers and fresh graduates.

IT companies have also been actively investing in Malaysia. Chipmaker Intel's investment arm, for instance, recently forked out 50 million ringgit (US$15.4 million) in Malaysia's Packet One Networks for the rollout of WiMax technology.

Malaysia is said to hold tremendous opportunities for software vendor Epicor, while PC maker Dell has always considered the country--and the Penang state, in particular--strategic to its business.

According to the ZDNet Asia IT Salary Benchmark Survey 2008, salaries of IT professionals are commensurate with the strong market outlook in Malaysia. Close to 2,900 IT professionals from a range of industry sectors, job types and organization sizes were surveyed this year--a significant increase over the 535 respondents for 2007.

Based on the survey findings, the average IT salary in Malaysia was 72,144 ringgit (US$22,379), with those in IT management commanding a high of 113,489 ringgit (US$35,204). Project managers on average drew an annual pay of 73,912 ringgit (US$22,928), while systems developers earned 56,393 ringgit (US$17,493).

Tech professionals in the legal and finance sector had the most attractive annual salary (US$25,188) followed by those in IT, Web and telecom (US$22,939). The annual salary for IT workers in the media, marketing and sales (US$17,444), as well as the government, education and health sector (US$20,037), were significantly below the industry average.

Compared with the rest of the region, Malaysia's average annual IT salary lagged behind that of Hong Kong (US$57,303), Singapore (US$44,858) and Thailand (US$24,108). The country, however, is significantly higher when compared to India (US$13,864), the Philippines (US$12,425) and Indonesia (US$7,709).

Stella Thevarakam, regional HR director at ISS Consulting, told ZDNet Asia that salaries are higher by about 20 percent this year. ISS Consulting is a Malaysia-based management and technology consulting firm that specializes in the implementation of SAP and SAP related products.

The rise in salaries can be attributed to more tech professionals having certification as well as more companies tapping onto the common talent pool, she explained.

Thevarakam added: "Total packages are also becoming more expensive--people are looking for better insurance coverage which includes their families, more annual leave, and other benefits. All this adds very much to hiring costs, which gives way now to hiring contractors whereby the costs are less [due to fewer] benefits and lower salaries."

While higher salaries are welcome, the downside is that Malaysian candidates can be too focused on salaries. Thevarakam noted that even though jobseekers have signed offers, they will not hesitate to change their minds if they receive another offer that promises higher salaries.

"They will leave and run for the next company that offers 10 percent more," she said. "They also take [the employers'] offer letters and bargain with other companies for higher stay-on or [starting] salaries.

"I have recruiting experience in Thailand and the Philippines, and I don't see this happening too much there, especially Thailand," Thevarakam added, noting that if the employment situation persists, "Malaysia would not be the competitive place to set up IT businesses".

There is also pressure on smaller companies to offer higher remuneration and provide better training programs to attract talent, as fresh graduates are more particular about their job choice and look to join established companies.

IBM Malaysia's HR director Chai Cheng Sheng pointed out last month that fresh graduates lack strong communication skills, and are not attuned to current market and business trends.

Attitude, not certification, drive salaries
According to the ZDNet Asia survey, IT skills most commonly possessed by Malaysian tech professionals were in application development, desktop/software, and operating systems. Slightly over half of the respondents were equipped with application development skills, and about 40 percent had desktop/software skills.

Nearly four in 10 of those surveyed owned at least one professional certification. The most commonly held ones were the Microsoft Certified Professional, Cisco Certified Network Associate and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

While IT professionals in the country are increasingly concerned about being certified in their areas of expertise, Thevarakam said, having relevant certification alone would not necessarily guarantee higher pay. In fact, a candidate with relevant certification may not produce quality work, she said.

"People have become so package orientated that it is now becoming difficult to find the right attitude with the right package," Thevarakam explained. "In the near future, I believe the right attitude will earn more salaries than certs and experience. It is already happening in many companies these days."

IT Salary Benchmark Survey 2008
ZDNet Asia conducted an online survey between late-2007 and early-2008 to gain insights into Asia's IT workforce and salary trends. It drew 21,635 respondents from sectors such as government, healthcare, IT, services, telecommunications, legal and finance, and across seven Asian economies: Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Some 2,890 respondents were polled in Malaysia, about 60 percent of whom were in project management and systems development roles.

Note: In the following charts, MYR denotes the Malaysian ringgit.

Average Annual Salary by Industry

Job Function Industry
Government Education and Health IT, Web & Telecom Legal and Finance Media, Marketing and Sales (non-IT) Manufacturing, Services and Others (non-IT) Combined
IT Management MYR
MYR 128,364 MYR 120,870 MYR
MYR 113,489
Project management MYR
MYR 76,402 MYR 73,094 MYR
MYR 73,912
Systems Development MYR
MYR 65,272 MYR
MYR 56,393
Communications MYR
MYR 69,295 MYR 58,435 MYR
MYR 66,190
Support MYR
MYR 56,187 MYR 36,235 MYR
MYR 52,359
Other IT Professionals MYR
MYR 86,822 MYR 105,231 MYR
MYR 82,258
Overall MYR
MYR 73,950 MYR 81,199 MYR
MYR 72,144

Average annual salary by industry in Malaysia

Average Annual Salary of the Top Five IT Skills

% of Respondents IT Skills Average Annual Salary
51.0% Application Development MYR 75,930
40.8% Desktops/ Software MYR 68,906
39.1% Operating Systems MYR 70,422
38.3% Servers/ Networking MYR 70,008
36.1% System Administration MYR 72,246

Top 5 IT skills in Malaysia

Average Annual Salary by Job Function and Employment Status

Job Function Employment Status
Contract Full-time Combined
IT Management MYR 157,146 MYR 111,948 MYR 113,489
Project management MYR 81,409 MYR 73,305 MYR 73,912
Systems Development MYR 49,630 MYR 56,855 MYR 56,393
Communications MYR 81,691 MYR 64,871 MYR 66,190
Support MYR 46,120 MYR 52,750 MYR 52,359
Other IT Professionals MYR 46,341 MYR 84,159 MYR 82,258
Overall MYR 72,341 MYR 72,131 MYR 72,144

Average annual salary by job function in Malaysia

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