Brain Drain?

This was a debate topic that I came accross way back in 1993… yeah that was 14 years ago. The Internet in Malaysia at that time in was in its infancy.

A 14.4kbps modem was cool and 28.8kbps were rare. The thought of anything exceeding 100kbps was a myth!

Anyway, what drew my attention to this issue were several centerfold articles in The Star yesterday. Its a tough issue really. I know a dozen friends and relatives who work abroad because of the higher wages and more conducive working environments.

Though money is not everything, would you as a young professional, single with no commitments prefer to work here for RM 3,500 per month OR would you prefer
working in the UK for the same figure but in Pounds ! at the exchange rate of
6.93 (source from That translates into RM 24,255 per month!

Ok.. ok, so the cost of living is high, the taxes are high and all your close friends are in thousands of miles away in KL… That is true & furthermore, there’s no original teh tarik, roti canai, gulai daging salai and nasi lemak.

But, even if one could save a mere 10% i.e. 350 Pounds per month in the UK, in a year, they will have saved almost RM 30,000 ! even half of that would be impossible if they were to work locally.

Now there are pros and cons to this issue. Money is just a factor but the hotter issue will be the lack of human resource in highly skilled fields. There might also be a career mismatch. Here are yesterday’s articles from The Star :

The Star,

Pressing brain drain issue

Malaysia is facing a severe brain drain in its workforce, especially in the area of skilled labour and professionals. What are the causes and what can be done about it? StarBiz zeroes in on this issue.

MALAYSIA must adopt a holistic approach to address the current brain drain in the workforce if the country wants to remain competitive, according to Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute director Tan Sri Ramon V. Navaratnam.

Manton Townend

He said the loss of quality and skilled workforce was due to higher pay and better perks offered by companies overseas, compounded by migration of professionals.

“Clearly there should be a more integrated way to attract skilled Malaysian workers to remain here, and if this trend (outflow of skilled workforce and professionals) continues to grow, there might be serious repercussions to the economy,” he said.

Navaratnam was speaking at the two-day National Human Resources Summit 2007 themed Enhancing Organisational Effectiveness Through Superior Human Capital Management last Monday.

He said greater collaborative effort between the private sector and the Government was required to ensure the level of skilled workforce in Malaysia remained adequate and relevant.

Ministry of Human Resources secretary-general Datuk Thomas George, who was a guest at the summit, concurred there was a brain drain, especially at the professional level.

Manpower Inc managing director (Asia emerging markets) Manton Townend, also speaking at the summit, said the quality of the Malaysian workforce could be significantly “compromised” if companies continued to hire more foreign workers in manual and professional jobs, replacing locals because it’s cheaper.

“I suspect the wages for hiring locals might be depressed somewhat because companies have the liberty to employ foreign workers,” he noted.

It was recently reported that there were over 1.5 million legal foreign workers here employed in the plantation, construction and services industry, especially as maids.

However, it is believed there are just as many illegal foreign workers working in odd jobs which do no provide regular incomes.

On the quality of Malaysian workforce, Townend said that generally the workforce was good, with many Malaysians with professional degrees and varied skill sets.

Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

“Many Malaysians have a choice to work locally or abroad,” he said, noting that the quality and skills of the workforce were often higher compared with those in the region, excluding Singapore and Australia.

He said there were also many Malaysians who were working abroad or had migrated, which contributed to the brain drain.

Asked if lower wages were causing the brain drain, Townend said: “Undeniably pay is a major issue for some employees, but it’s not always the case. Many of the locals and expatriates, including myself, choose to work here for the experience and overall package.”

Townend said employees generally did not leave their jobs just because of a slightly better pay.

“They are more likely to leave their jobs because of the lack of engagement by the companies hiring them. The lack of engagement refers to issues like lack of appreciation and communication by employers and/or the lack of career direction. The worst thing any employer can do is to welcome his new staff, show him his work station, hand him a job description and leave him without any support,” he said.

Townend said there were other factors that could lead to a loss of skilled workforce.

“There’s a growing trend in the human resource industry to source for professionally expertise globally including from Malaysia,” he said. According to him, developing countries with strong growth rates like Vietnam, India and China are looking for skilled and professional workers.

However, he said, in developed countries like Singapore, Britain and Australia, the expertise needed might be more specific or sophisticated.

Datuk Thomas George

Rayford Migration Services Corp managing director James Yap said there were strong employment opportunities in Australia for qualified individuals with “in-demand” skills such as hairstylists, chefs, and mechanics, besides professionals with tertiary or diploma education in accountancy, nursing, and medicine.

Rayford Migration Services is an Australia-based company with a branch in Kuala Lumpur.

Yap said last year there were over 4,000 Malaysians with special skills or degrees that migrated to Australia.

“We have a lot of enquiry about migration to Australia and the demand seems to be growing stronger each year,” he said, adding that migration generally fell into two categories: the young and professional, and business migration.

On reasons for migration, Yap said the younger ones migrated for better career opportunities, while some people might want to do business there.

“There are also those who migrate for a quieter and less stressful lifestyle, compared with Malaysia,” he noted. A managing director of an expatriate recruitment company here, which specialises in head hunting highly qualified individuals with master’s and post graduate degrees and medical specialists, said there was good demand for such individuals in Britain, the United States and parts of Europe.

He said over the past few years, Malaysians migrating abroad had doubled in number.

Shortage seen in services and high-tech sector

WHILE the human resources fraternity does not have exact figures to back their claim of a brain drain in the Malaysian workforce, most believe this is happening and that if the situation is not addressed quickly, the repercussions might be far reaching, possibly affecting the country’s economic performance in time.

Manpower Inc managing director (Asia emerging markets) Manton Townend said some of the future challenges Malaysia would face in its workforce included skill shortages, skills mismatch and possibly acute shortage of skills in specific industries, especially in the services and high-tech sectors.

“Malaysia must ensure its workforce competencies are keeping pace with globalisation and technology demands,” he said.

Besides obtaining information from textbook, Townend said, knowledge and critical work experience could be obtained by being under someone’s tutelage.

Townend also said in many Asian countries, including Malaysia and Japan, many women “retired” early from their careers due to family commitments, despite being capable.

“There should be ways to increase their career lifespan,” he said, adding that in the West, women generally had a longer career and contributed significantly to gross domestic product.

Heera Training & Management Consultancy principal Heera Singh said motivation in the workplace was the critical X factor in achieving efficiency and productivity and retaining employees in an organisation. “Many companies fail to realise that their best and talented employees are the most important resources in their organisation which give them their competitive edge over rivals,” he said.

He said Bill Gates once said: “Take away our best 20 people and I will tell you Microsoft would become an unimportant company.”

Heera also said a survey carried out by Gallup Organisation involving over one million employees and 80,000 managers revealed that what most employees wanted more than anything else was a good boss.

“This was the most influential factor affecting employee retention and performance,” he noted.

Gallup lead researcher Curt Coffman said if a company had a high turnover of staff, look first to their managers.

“Generally, a number of employees leave because of friction with their immediate bosses, not because of the company,” said Coffman.

Human resource coach Tan Kwee Seng said workers also wanted mentors to deal with technical and communication skills.

“Employees need to know that they are appreciated by the company and not just a staff number. They also want to be excited at work, knowing that they are learning and developing important skills that would help them in their career advancement.”

Cross-border hunt on for best workers

THE country has to start taking steps to counter the effects of a talent crunch or risk losing more of its skilled workforce to competitors overseas, recruitment experts say. vice-president (marketing) Simon Si said globalisation and the challenges of competing in today’s knowledge-based economy had, in recent years, created a rush to recruit the best talent.

“A common practice is if you cannot find the talent in your own backyard, you need to scout in someone else’s.

“Cross-border hiring has been made much easier due to the Internet. So it is not surprising that Malaysia faces a talent drain,” he said.

Si noted that many employers had indicated that they had difficulties recruiting relevant skilled staff.

He stressed that companies should look for ways to brand themselves as an employer of choice in their business category to attract top talents and retain their best staff.

“Companies should also be prepared to train as well as provide the right challenges and rewards to motivate their staff. Otherwise, the war for talents will escalate even more and companies will find themselves fending of not just local competitors but also those from overseas,” he said.

Manpower Staffing Services (M) Sdn Bhd operations manager Mark Hall said governments and employers around the world were taking steps to counter the effects of talent shortages by improving educational and vocational training, adopting strategic migration policies, bringing the economically inactive into the labour force, and encouraging skilled and experienced older individuals to remain in employment.

“I can say with complete confidence that there is a global talent crunch in many areas of the global workforce today that will both grow more acute and more widespread across more disciplines over the next 10 years,” he added.

He said demographic shifts, including aging populations, declining birth rates, economic migration, social evolution, inadequate educational programmes and globalisation, were causing shortages not only in the overall availability of talent but also – and more significantly – in the specific skills and competencies required in industrialised, emerging and developing economies.

Jen International Executive Search regional search director Peter Tang attributed the brain drain to a lack of opportunities in Malaysia or more attractive compensation packages offered in other countries.

“We have lost talented individuals to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the US,” he said, adding that it was more widespread in developing nations.

He pointed out that there was a shortage of engineers and information technology (IT) professionals especially in Cyberjaya, clinical researchers, research and development engineers, and bio-technologists.

“Recently, we have just placed a number of candidates overseas to Singapore, China and the Middle East in the areas of IT, engineering, pharmaceutical and clinical research,” he said.

JobStreet’s Si sees a brain drain in the financial and medical sectors.

“The tourism and hospitality industry seems to be feeling the pinch as well with some of their best workers moving to work in the Middle East, Singapore and Europe in search of better wages,” he said.

Nevertheless, Si believes there should be little reason why Malaysians working overseas would not come back to the country if there were the right incentives and an overall climate where their skills are appreciated, they are rewarded accordingly, their social-economic needs are met, and they are able to develop themselves professionally and within their community.

15 Responses to “Brain Drain?”
  1. Zul says: long an article…

    Perhaps the guys who are supposed to bring out the ‘brains’ of the country are themselves brain dead?

  2. Malaysia Malaysian says:

    Thus most of peoples understood the situation. The article has reflected a real situation in Malaysia. In fact, we are still struggling in the global economic, nevertheless there are steps of pre-preparation that we careless about. I strongly believe ” TO HAVE A STRONG PYRAMID WE HAVE TO BUILT THE BASE NEATLY AND EVENLY “. Here by i would like to highlight one of the engagement driver which is “BEING TREATED EQUALLY”. though it is too wide and too difficult to define but it’s essential for the brain drain problems. Only real love and patriotism would catch citizens’ heart.

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Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] conducive to produce anything good despite the ‘best efforts’ made. Just look at the brain drain issue and the Malaysia football, which has reached a new, shocking low level. I am also sure if the […]

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