MAY 10 ― As Malaysia embraces digital economy and Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0), we appear to be overly engrossed in building infrastructure like rolling out 5G technology and building smart cities. In the scramble to stay ahead of the rapidly-evolving technological curve, we sometimes forget our most important resource of all: human capital.
Automation, Big Data, cloud computing and the Internet of things (IoT) ― all hallmarks of IR 4.0 ― can only be used and executed if the people are equipped with the skills to do so. Failure to develop a skilled local workforce will result in our dependence on foreign labour, making Malaysia at the mercy of nations with more highly-skilled workers.
As someone who had spent 13 years in the Silicone Valley before returning to Malaysia, I must say that at first I was worried about the country's long-term human resources prospects. But I am gratified to learn over the past few months that Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran is staying on top of things insofar as charting the way forward is concerned.
He has not only committed to making the Malaysian workforce up to speed with the latest market demands, but also fostered an environment for them to thrive. His pronouncement about prioritising technical and vocational education training (TVET) was indeed a brave one as it went against our long-held Asian values of academic pursuits. The truth is that, countries like Germany and Japan have become the technological giants that they are today due to the emphasis they had placed on the technical and vocational track in their educational systems. Better late than never for Malaysia to catch up!
Kulasegaran had also done the right thing by encouraging working adults to upskill when he directed TVET institutes to hold classes after office hours. This will help many adults whose jobs are rendered obsolete to pick up new skills and become employable again.
Beyond TVET, the unassuming minister has hit all the right notes in forging the right ecosystem for human resources to flourish in Malaysia. His presence in the May Day rally organised by the MTUC marked the first time in decades that a minister had attended the event and served as a boost for workers.
During the event, he pledged to amend seven employment-related laws that will make Malaysia's labour legislations on par with that of developed nations. These include curbing discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace and boosting female participation in the labour market.
Not left out are the disabled community and the elderly, who are often sidelined for employment opportunities ― a problem aggravated by archaic laws that do not reflect current realities.
His commitment to reduce foreign labour from six million to four million within five years reflects his deep desire to kick Malaysia's addiction to cheap workers at the expense of long-term economic well-being. All over the world, no developed economies had ever thrived on foreign labour dependence as it is unsustainable. Kulasegaran has articulated a progressive plan to enhance automation at the workplace to achieve this target.
Based on policy announcements, Kulasegaran obviously has his hands on the pulse of emerging global trends in the human capital sector. He has also been able to translate current and future labour market needs into actionable plans through Cabinet or otherwise, bringing Malaysia one step closer towards becoming a high-income nation.
Credit must be given where credit is due. I don't think the media has done Kulasegaran justice just because he carries out his duties without much fanfare. His holistic approach in getting the country's human resources policies on the right track makes him the right man for the right job.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.