Malaysia ‘must address issue of brain drain’

HR needs to do more to stop the flow of talented nationals out of the country, say experts

Malaysia is losing educated and well-trained local professionals at an increasingly alarming rate, experts have told People Management, and employers need to develop tools to halt the trend.

“This is a serious problem that has to be resolved soon as the brain drain continues to reach epic proportions,” Roshan Thiran, CEO of Malaysia-based leadership firm Leaderonomics, said.

A January 2017 survey by Malaysia’s CIMB Foundation found that 15.5 per cent of Malays, 48.8 per cent of Chinese Malaysians and 37.3 per cent of Indian Malaysians reported a stronger than average desire to emigrate from the country. And the desire to leave was higher among those who had completed their secondary or tertiary education: 17.3 per cent of Malays, 52.6 per cent of Chinese Malaysians and 42 per cent of Indian Malaysians, it said.

Leaderonomics is aware of the problem and has taken action to prevent it: We “promise deep learning experiences and promote high performing talent to very senior roles regardless of their age,” said Thiran. And by “pushing and growing each employee to reach their potential” the company has attracted global talent to Malaysia: “We have people from Cyprus, Nigeria, the UK, Hungary, Italy and from various other parts of the world with us,” he told People Management.

One way to make up for the country’s brain drain is to attract foreign talent in just this way. “The world is a melting pot and Malaysia needs to embrace globalisation and talent mobility,” Thiran argued.

He urged other organisations to follow suit and be more prepared to hire talented foreigners – or returning Malaysians.

But Malaysian companies’ failure to clearly say who they are to the outside world and how skills and experience generate rewards, causes talent loss, said Diane Crombie, associate director at Randstad Malaysia.

“Malaysians abroad can be persuaded to return home by providing favourable fresh graduate programmes with higher and better starting salary packages and good working prospects,” she said. Thiran added that many who leave cite discriminatory practices and therefore “offering the right possibilities for development, as well as good conditions,” is key.

The government claims it is taking the problem seriously, establishing entities such as TalentCorp and the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation to “attract, nurture and retain” global talent back home by offering incentives, said an official note.

A persistent brain drain with adverse impact on the quality of manpower needs to be addressed if Malaysia is to achieve its vision to be a developed nation by 2020.

While accepting that Malaysia has made progress to address the problem, an assessment by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) has highlighted that a loss of educated workers risks weakening the economy. Completed towards the of end 2016, the survey’s conclusions included calling on Malaysia to tap new sources of growth, re-energising its economy through innovation-driven productivity gains.

Shuhui Chia, country risk analyst at BMI Research, agreed that the loss of manpower with the requisite skills and knowledge through emigration is a persistent problem weighing against Malaysia. Race-based affirmative action especially benefiting Malays has resulted in “consistent brain drain”, she said, with “a parliamentary report in 2016 indicating that 140,000 citizens left the country, probably permanently in 2007, which is the latest figure available”.

“Given that only 12.1 per cent of Malaysia’s population had tertiary education in 2010, the number represents a sizeable loss of talent,” said Chia. She added that remaining workers often had a “relatively weak grasp of English”, which has “also weighed on the quality of its human capital”.

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