Malaysia facing uphill battle to stem brain drain

As the economic growth slows, Malaysia is facing an uphill battle to stem the brain drain as local talents seek better remuneration and opportunities abroad.

Next year, Malaysia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow at 4.5%, the slowest among regional peers based on an International Monetary Fund forecast.

Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) said in October that Malaysia could fail to achieve its US$15,000 (RM63,600) gross national income (GNI) per capita target by 2020 due to the ringgit’s depreciation.

In 2012, about 400,000 Malaysians were working in Singapore, a country with a GNI per capita of US$55,150, the seventh highest in the world. Sophie Lim, 19, who is relocating to Australia next month to study culinary arts, intends to seek work Down Under.

“I will be getting my permanent residentship in Australia during my twoyear course,” Lim told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) yesterday.

It is estimated that one million Malaysians are working abroad, mainly in Singapore, Australia and the UK. “Malaysia needs to create economic growth that will grow wages to levels that are competitive enough to lure skilled workers back to the country,” said Khawar Ali (picture), CEO of AdvisoryKONNECT, a global human capital sourcing firm.

Khawar proposed that Malaysia could model India which is seeing thousands of highly skilled workers returning home, in line with India’s rapid economic growth. “Everyone who came to India to outsource, took that skill and knowledge abroad.

“What you see now is the skills coming home, (because) the economy is growing rapidly and opportunities in the domestic market are great,” Khawar told TMR.

“Creating the same kind of model in Malaysia where there is growth not only in outsourcing but in other sectors will see wages rise,” Khawar said, adding
that people in general are very patriotic.

“If they see growth in their country, they’ll come back,” said Khawar who advised governments on human capital
issues.

“The large number of Malaysians (working abroad) is a major loss of resource to the country,” said Dr Yeah Kim Leng, dean of the school of business at
Malaysia University of Science and Technology.

Malaysia faces challenges to woo those already abroad as it needs to provide not justjob opportunities, but also career ladder potential, Yeah said.

“Improved economic prospects in developed countries will continue to lure Malaysian workers, and affect Malaysia and other developing countries,” said Yeah.

From 2011 to 2013, the government allocated RM65 million to Talent Corp Malaysia Bhd (TalentCorp) to persuade highly-talented Malaysians to
return home.

TalentCorp CEO Johan Mahmood Merican said in September, the agency had successfully lured 3,600 Malaysians to return home which he was reported as saying is “a drop in the ocean”.

“Based on the numbers, we have succeeded (in bringingback the talent),” Yeah said.

He said while TalentCorp has tried to look for the “pull” factors to lure Malaysians to return home, it also needs to look at the “push” factors that resulted in the sustained labour exodus.

Among the reasons cited for leaving the country include better educational and employment opportunities, and economic growth concerns.

In May, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said 161,000 graduates aged between 20 and 24 were unemployed.

The figure made up 40.2% of the total number of unemployed individuals in the country, the minister said.

Instead of spending millions to bring local professionals back, the government should focus on solving employment issues faced by new graduates every year, said Prof Dr Hoo Ke Ping, a prominent economist.

“The government has spent hundred of millions on Talent- Corp. How many Malaysians have returned? Why should they, when we have too many unemployed professionals in Malaysia,” said Hoo.