Monday, November 1, 2010

Where is Penang's talents?

Where has all the talents gone? long time passing....

Penang Chief Minister Mr Lim Guan Eng recently was not happy over the top Cambridge law student Tan Zhongshan serving in our neighboring country, Singapore. I was wonder did he get the JPA scholarship? or Singapore government scholarship? The issue of talents leaving the country is not new, it has happen long time ago, and despite the problem, the government is not able to attract the talents, we are actually export our talents to other countries. What is the actual cause?

The roots of the problem is the system of incentives and scholarship for the best talents from the country, the other is the career opportunity in the country. Did we have the rich environment for the talents to excel if they come back, will they have the best chances in turn of career advancement especially in government service, can they get the best resources, can they have the liberty to do well....or is there any political or racial biased factors in the environment?....Is the human capital environment attractive enough for them?....the answer is still "NO"....

Actually the federal government know the problem, but is not able to tackle due to their own policy based on political agenda. It is sad that despite the 53 years after the independence, we are not able to provide our younger generation the sense of equality, and liberal environment to excel in their talents. No wonder they choose to leave. The nation need a critical policy change....

But congratulation to the Government for their ability to attract unskilled immigrants to the country, and their ability to export the talents to other country. The issue of the talents management in the country is not the priority to the current government, may be it only significantly affect Penang state, the shortage of E&E engineers. The Johor state still can take back their income, as many of the talents still living in Johor Bahru, as for Kuala Lumpur, being a administrative and commercial centre, it still can attract the talents from other states to off balance the outflow.

The following is Press Statement By DAP Secretary-General And MP For Bagan Lim Guan Eng(also the current Chief Minister of Penang) In DAP Penang Headquarters In Penang On 20.10.2010.

Failure Of Talent Corporation To Entice Top Cambridge University Law Student Tan Zhongshan Back To Malaysia A Consequence Of Failed Economic Policies That Stresses 100-Storey Warisan Merdeka Over Human Capital Formation.

DAP wishes to extend our congratulations on behalf of Malaysians to Ipoh-born Tan Zhongshan for his outstanding achievement in becoming the top law student in the prestigious Cambridge University. However our pride at Tan’s success is tempered by the failure of our government to engage his services resulting in Tan heading to Singapore to join its Legal Service commission.
Tan’s departure from Malaysia is not surprising as he is part of the alarming brain drain that has swelled to almost tsunami levels. The number of Malaysian migrants rose by more than 100-fold in a 45-year period, from 9,576 Malaysians in 1960 to 1,489,168 Malaysians in 2005, according to the World Bank, which warned that a lack of human capital is a “critical constraint in Malaysia’s ambition to become a high-income economy.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Senator A. Kohilan Pillay also said recently that 304,358 Malaysians had migrated from March 2008 till August 2009 compared with 139,696 Malaysians in 2007. In other words 1,942,798 mostly bright and talented Malaysians have left over the past 50 years since 1960 until August 2009.

The prime minister told Parliament this month that less than one per cent of 784,900 Malaysians working overseas have returned to the country during the past nine years with Singapore having the highest number of Malaysians with 303,828 people, followed by Australia with 78,858.

No longer are only non-Malays leaving the country for better employment opportunities, even Malays are doing the same. When I went to Dubai nearly 2 years ago, I was surprised to learn there were thousands of Malay professionals there who left Malaysia due to lack of promotional opportunities as they were not politically connected to top UMNO leaders.

In an effort to stop the hollowing out of Malaysia’s economy and lure back talents, the Najib administration has established the Talent Corporation (Talentcorp). Unfortunately, the failure of Talent Corporation to entice top Malaysian talents like Tan back to work in Malaysia is a consequence of failed economic policies that stresses 100-storey Warisan Merdeka over human capital formation.

Human talents is the new oil of the 21st century. The country that succeeds in training, retraining, retaining and attracting human talent will not just enjoy economic prosperity but be a world power. In this new paradigm, innovation is king.

Clearly stressing other considerations such as race or political connections over merits and needs not only drives away top talents, but also depresses standards and encourages a culture of mediocrity over excellence. The Malaysian government must also be bold in setting ability as the key ingredient for promotion and reward.

DAP does not see how Malaysia’s Talent Corporation will be able to succeed in attracting back 750,000 Malaysians working overseas, where only 1% has returned, if the federal government is more concerned about spending tens of billions on mega-projects that does not build human capital.



Singapore and Penang are close in many ways, both were part of Strait Settlement; and many Penangites contributed in early Singapore development. The late Mr Hon Sui Sen from Balik Pulau, an old Xaverian, Mr Wee Chong Jin(黄宗仁), the first Chief Justice of Singapore was from George Town, Penang, an ex-student from Penang Free School. In fact all three Chief Justice of Singapore, Wee Chong Jin, Yong Pung How(杨邦孝)from Kuala Lumpur and Chan Sek Keong(陈锡强)from Ipoh, are all from Malaysia. Currently Mr Khaw Boon Wan, from Chung Ling High School was Minister of Health; Kasinather Saunthararajah,former Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Singapore, from Perai, Province Wellesley, Penang, ex-student from Bukit Mertajam High School. These are the talent people from Penang, there are many in Singapore, Taiwan, England, Australia, Canada, Thailand, China and other places....they excel in oversea, other countries, why?....why they did not stay?, I believe that the answer is there, they were able to achieve the highest level where there was no unnecessary political restriction in their pursuit of excellence. The trend will continue, as long as old policy remained, no matter what new name you give it..... Singapore still have advantage and ability to attract new talents...

Penang is the most critical, because we are talents producing state; and we urgently need the talents in our current economic environment. Our industry based economy need large pool of E&E engineers, and other talents.

Penang used to have the best resources pool of education institutions to produce talents. Chung Ling High School, Jit Sin High School, Penang Chinese Girl's High School, Penang Free School, St Xavier Institution, the Convents, the MBS and MGS.....Penang has produced graduates of outstanding qualities especially in engineering, technical and IT skills to meet the needs of the industry. Penang Skills Development Centre churned over 100,000 trainees since its establishment in 1998. We have university of Science(USM) despite the medical faculty was moved to Kelantan. We have private institutions and colleges. Penang used to be a talents producing state....but how many are retain in the country? mainly because of the national policy of the talent management, it badly affect the progress of Penang state; we are not only suffered from the talent leaks, the momentum of the economic development was adversely affected to take a slower rate.... a state without any natural resources like Singapore, and yet we are left behind by Singapore due to our political restrictions....

But the clue is that many talents was lost when they come out from the secondary schools; attractive scholarships are given by Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, USA to attract our best talents. They skim the top portion of the talent pool, the best brains from Penang.....Many failed to obtain the federal scholarships, JPA scholarships but was offered scholarships by other country who see their potentials with clear mind( not with polluted political views)...We acknowledged that the situation has improved, but can it changed the situation when the offer by others are better?.....for the talents, they still have the liberty to make their choice....

Malaysia was left with the remaining talent pools, and hoping that the top talent skimmed by the other countries come back one day......we are reactive and hope for the best..other country is proactive to take the best away....all because of the national policy which is not suitable anymore in the global environment..And to add salts to the wounds, our existing talents are attracted by the other developing countries, offering better incentives and remunerations....

The job market and talent management policy will need to focus actively on the global market; no more within the national boundary, as we are now competing with other countries for our own talents. Any human capital policy or talent management policy based on narrow minded political agenda will weaken as time go by. All these policies must taken into consideration the global prospective. The new generation of young people will be global in their outlook and diluted in their racial identification or even national identification as time go by ....the world is their platform, they have better choice....For Penang, which has to compete not only globally, but also with other states in the country.

Are we still pondering or hiding our head like ostrich? I hope we look out from our coconut shell...and tackle the problem straight to the root, otherwise the national talent management policy or human capital policy will only be less effective and continue export talents...

Talents are talents, they have brains, they can see what is actually behind the sweet wrappers....the content of the policy...the outlook and the hidden agenda....and the most important is they have alternatives in the global market for their talents.

For Penang, we need to have a prestige scholarship scheme like the former Queen scholarship, or Singapore's President scholarship to retain Penang talents, to prevent them from leaving the state, as well as the country. We need to attract the talent back not only from other country, but other states. We need to build the environment now for them to come back, no point waiting for the federal to do it. We also need the talents to sit at future state cabinet..we need to continue to maintain our education institutions to be top quality. We need to bring in top class university to the state.

We need to recognize that being a state government, we have our limitations; but we need to seek for blue ocean strategy for an alternative to manage the state's talent pools.

...just to salvage some talents, as I think the talent will still be leaving as the big environment is still weak....we cannot provide the bigger platform for them, or even globally. But Penang must move forward no matter how, to compete globally...we cannot wait for others to move.....

"To attract talent, Penang must be seen to be an attractive enough place to call home. It must be a great place to work, ... And not only shall we strive to train and retain local talent, we also want to bring in NEW talents to Penang". ...(Lim Guan Eng's speech in Penang Outlook Forum 2009)

Talent management is simple, Home sweet Home, and not only Sweets with beautiful meaningless sweet wrappers....we need a freeer and better home environment for the talents...

Related articles

1. Repossessing the future of Penang,
2. Speech by Lim Guan Eng at the 2nd PSC Meeting - Agilent Technologies Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone on Monday, 16th August 2010: ;
3. Pilot Studies for a New Penang, by Ooi Kee Beng & Goh Ban Lee, eds., Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010

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