Lack of Expertise

I have recently come across a couple of situations where people have expressed their frustrations at the lack of expertise and skilled workers in Malaysia. I have some thoughts about this issue and I would like to put them down here.

Mismatch of Skills
In one case, I visited a semiconductor foundry (those places that manufacture the electronic chips) and was told that our government had already identified a shortage of local talent and expertise in the areas of integrated circuit design (IC design) at both front-end and back-end work. Since a huge chunk of our GDP comes from the electronics sector, it was important for us to maintain an edge in this industry in order to protect our exports.

This reminds me of a story – about a government scholar who did a PhD in integrated circuit design at one of the premier engineering institutions in the world. However, after returning to Malaysia and reporting for duty, he was not assigned to work in the IC design area at all. He was instead assigned to work in the area of software and then eventually moved to working in information security. One wonders why.

He told me that he was interviewed by a certain director in this area. The director asked my friend a question that was wrong and so my friend (being severely lacking in social skills) ended up correcting the director and pointing out to him that the question was not correct. At first, the director tried to assert that he was right but in the end had to back down and admit his fault.

It was totally understandable that the director then tried to pass my friend away from IC design work and onto software. That is how one of our expertise in the area of integrated circuit design wound up doing software debugging and testing. Unfortunately, it did not turn out to be the last time my friend had a difference of opinion with the director, and his team. That is probably how my friend found himself moved to the information security department to write web applications.

The moral of the story is that my friend did not end up making coffee.

Mismatch of Expectations
Then, we have the situation where we claim to have a lack of skilled labour in Malaysia.

I had a meeting with a director of a certain educational organisation in Malaysia and this issue was raised – on the lack of engineers to meet our country’s demands. I pointed out that we definitely do not have a shortage of engineers because if we did, the laws of supply and demand would dictate that these engineers would be paid highly. Unfortunately, our engineering wages in Malaysia are barely enough to live by.

For some engineers, it is a matter of survival and most end up doing something other than engineering simply because the pay is better elsewhere. However, for those die-hard engineers who want to work in engineering, they also find it difficult to get a job – particularly for those skilled engineers who graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the world.

You see, most local companies would not be interested in hiring my friend who graduated from a top engineering school. Firstly, the local companies would prefer to hire the 75th percentile rather than the 95th percentile because they would make better workers as they would be easier to control manage. Secondly, they would feel that highly skilled engineers would ultimately leave because they would not be paid a commensurate salary. So, it would be in the best interest of the company to hire and train up a good worker who stays.

I agree that both of these are fair reasons. Particularly if our industry does not have the demand for a large number of highly skilled engineers. We tend to outsource to overseas consultants and contractors when we need to hire in certain expertise.

However, if you are unwilling to pay for the best, you will not get them. As the saying goes – if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. A colleauge of mine pointed out to me today that – there is no reason to get a PhD in Malaysia because people here do not recognise the additional training and knowledge that you have gained – even if you do end up getting it from a premier engineering school. I would have to agree.

The moral of this story is that my friend got a good tan at the beach.

PS: I have many friends in engineering from top universities.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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