Tackling the skills deficit

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GEORGE TOWN: Whilst the lack of manpower is a common grouse among businesses in Malaysia, the situation is similar elsewhere, a Singapore-based industrialist said.

Jeffrey Goh, who is president and CEO of Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing (SAM), should know. He is investing RM500 million in a plant in Penang to make aircraft casings, and is well aware of the need for qualified workers.

Goh said even Singapore is facing the same problem. Foreigners comprise 40% of the island republic’s workforce, including a large number of knowledge and skilled workers from India and China.

Asked why SAM chose to invest in Penang even though the state government had previously turned down a million-ringgit investment because it was unable to guarantee the supply of 1,000 engineers in a specialised category, Goh said the problem persisted everywhere.

“It’s the same thing in China. The turnover of workers is around 30%, with many of them willing to switch jobs even for a small pay increase,” he said.

As its human resource requirements are for those specialised in machining and engineering, Goh said SAM Malaysia and SAM have taken mitigating steps to “secure” their future workforce.

“We have identified five schools, four on the island and one on the mainland, where we adopt bright students from poor families.

Goh: We are here for the long haul.

“We are spending RM250,000 per annum on 15 Form Four students from each school We pay for their school fees, uniforms, schoolbags and other necessities.

“We hold summer camps and we arrange various activities for them.

“After SPM, when they decide on college, if they want us to continue helping them, there will be a bond and we will sponsor their education all the way,” Goh added.

Even those who do not make it to college would also be offered jobs.

Goh said the company was laying the groundwork for its future workforce by also recruiting and training students from the German-Malaysian Institute and Japan-Malaysia Technical Institute with six-month internships.

In addition, it is working with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority and the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority towards bolstering its future workforce.

“The difference between us and other MNCs is that they come and set up their operations and they can leave any time they want.

“For us, it is different as our machines are huge and we cannot just up and go. We are here for the long haul,” Goh said.

The firm is opening the plant in Penang to supply nacelle major machined parts to Goodrich Aerostructures, with which it has a contract for 10 years and an option for an additional 10 years parts.

Goh said the facility in Bukit Minyak would run for 24 hours and would require skilled and specialised engineers and machinists.

He said SAM was in a good position to recruit workers as the facility would be partially operational by mid-2012 and in full operational mode only end of 2012 or early 2013.

Goh said to overcome the acute manpower shortage, the government should set up more training schools, similar to Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education where even dropouts could learn different trades and end up with a professional certification.

“The key to attracting more investments is to have a ready pool of workers without the companies having to come in and start from scratch to train workers,” he said.

This article appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, June 6, 2011.