Malaysia’s New Workforce

By Anita Devasahayam

Work is fast becoming a nasty four-letter word as machinery and automation continues to displace jobs. The slowdown among US multinationals in the first quarter of 2001 has resulted in 5466 layoffs in Malaysia. The number of layoffs for all of last year totalled 8351.

Despite the job cut, knowledge workers continue to be in the limelight due to a shortage of highly-skilled workers here and globally.

Minister of Energy, Telecommunications and Multimedia, Datuk Amar Leo Moggie said that the situation (due to the slowdown) is not so bleak as estimates indicate that MSC-status approved companies will need more than 42,493 knowledge workers skilled in information communication technology to fill vacancies for this year alone.

He added that it has been proven that specialised skilled workers are still needed even though many companies have difficulty finding and retaining talented people.

Observers noted that corporations use periods of slowdown to give notice to inefficient employees, although knowledge workers will continue to be in demand even if they are made redundant.

Corporations were in fact relieved when ineffective individuals crossed over to cyberspace at the peak of the dotcom boom. “It is not easy to get rid of older hats and we are glad they left us. Some returned asking for their old jobs but we refused,” admitted a company director who declined to be named.

The Malaysian professional
Malaysian knowledge workers are an unique breed as they adapt and assimilate into different cultures easily, said Chua Chai Ping, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s human resources consulting manager. Furthermore, language is no longer a barrier.

The new breed of young Malaysians is starved for challenges at the workplace and has big ambitions for their individual careers.

“These so-called X-Generation is full of energy and are a dynamic lot. They continually seek challenges at the workplace and are keen to be part of a learning organisation that promotes spiro-culture. They want to learn, unlearn and relearn. Importantly, they seek to be in the decision-making process as well.”

Yet some knowledge workers complain that the local working conditions become dull after a while. Chua concurred, adding that it will definitely take more than money to motivate an employee.

“The opportunities for career growth here is limited and after awhile, many will look for challenges elsewhere,” she said.

But she pointed out that companies can do a lot to retain their talent pool. Chua suggested simple ideas like dressing down on Fridays, recognition for jobs well done and training to improve one’s skills as strong morale boosters and motivators.

The pressure-cooking hours created by the Internet has also redefined the nature of work among ordinary folks. In the last two years, many professionals had given up stable incomes to enter the dotcom fray in hope of cashing out on stock options. Sadly, their dreams fizzled out before they can collect their returns.

The meltdown has turned the job market more liquid but there will be some sort of consolidation before the next dotcom wave arrives, said Robert Lim, MCS director for executive search, Human Resources and Strategic Change consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

“Stock options are a thing of the past here. It may apply to those who have faith to push their visions but broadly speaking, it is no longer a juicy carrot.”

The once elusive candidate with leading-edge Web skills who had eyes only for dotcoms is now more interested in longevity, he added. Unlike their US counterparts who have opted to backpack in Europe or Asia, dot-gone employees have had to look for jobs. Others are placing more importance on family values--time spent with aged parents and young children ranks high on the agenda.

Lim said that the dotcom mania had infused the working culture with new practices, forcing companies to re-look their existing policies and procedures to fit the new worker.

“Many old corporate chieftains do not encourage flexibility. Being from the school of hard knocks, they rely on their own success stories to move higher up the scale. The economy borne of the Internet is a new ballgame to them and even if they are beginning to realise that not all the old rules apply, [implementing] change [within their company] is not immediate.”

Anita Devasahayam can be reached at