Mindsets need changing as skilled workers can out-earn Uni grads

Malaysians need to wholeheartedly embrace technical training if the country were to join the ranks of developed nations such as Germany, said technical industry and education thought leaders at a recent Industry Speaks event organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU).

This comes as the country grapples with the conflicting problem of too many unemployed university graduates – one in five Malaysian degree holders under the age of 25 were unemployed in 2012, according to the World Bank – and insufficient skilled workers to fuel the high tech and high value industries that the nation covets in its drive to become a high income nation.

Dato’ Boonler Somchit, Advisor to Khazanah Nasional Berhad’s Corporate Reskilling Centre, said that more people need to be aware that skilled technical workers can out-earn their university educated counterparts.

“A machinist with two years of training in precision machining and three to five years of experience can earn more than an engineer,” he told Business Circle.

Dato’ Boonler said that a vocationally trained precision machinist would start off with a salary of about RM2,400 and would “easily” hit RM10,000 by the fifth year.

Earlier in the panel discussion, Dato’ Boonler said that part of the reason for the low interest in technical vocational education and training (TVET) stems from the local culture which looks down on technical work and thinks it suitable only for school dropouts. He added that parents have a role to play in stimulating interest in TEVT.

“We must educate parents in the lower income group that going into the vocational field allows them to close the gap between poor and rich,” he said.

Thomas Zimmerle, CFO of Infineon Technologies and himself a graduate of the German Dual Vocational Training System, said that Malaysia could get more of its younger generation interested if it made it possible for TVET students to eventually get degrees, as is the case in Germany.

(Malaysia allows certificates from the vocational skills certification system to be recognised as a prerequisite for entry to into four Malaysian Technical Universities but not the rest of the public universities.

“In Germany, vocational training has a career path,” he said. “You must have a feeling that vocational education is not a dead-end road.”

Hajah Zalihar Abdul Ghani, Director of the Technical and Vocational Education Division at the Ministry of Education, however, said that things are changing with the current generation. The ministry has seen a jump in the number of applications for vocational schools rising from less than 50,000 in previous years to 78,000 last year.

She said that the ministry is aiming for 70% of secondary school graduates to enter industry, 20% to go for further studies and 10% to become entrepreneurs.

Hajah added that the ministry has also placed some 10,000 students in private TEVT schools for fields such as aviation and not only putting them in government institutions.

Both Dato’ Boonler and Hajah agreed that Malaysia should also look closely at what Singapore has done with its ITEs (Institute of Technical Education) which have evolved to become like university campuses and therefore more attractive to prospective students.

Dato’ Boonler noted that, in ITEs, students are taught in a tertiary-like environment complete with student orchestras and PhD instructors.

Malaysia moving in right direction

Meet the experts. From left are Umapagan Ampikaipakan, Thomas Zimmerle, Hajah Zalihar Abdul Ghani and Dato’ Boonler Somchit.Meet the experts. From left are Umapagan Ampikaipakan, Thomas Zimmerle, Hajah Zalihar Abdul Ghani and Dato’ Boonler Somchit.Meet the experts. From left are Umapagan Ampikaipakan, Thomas Zimmerle, Hajah Zalihar Abdul Ghani and Dato’ Boonler Somchit.

Meanwhile, Hajah said that Malaysia is moving in that direction and is trying to upgrade facilities as well as institution acreage, citing the new technical college in Pasir Putih, Kelantan which is 210 acres in size.

Abdul Manan Mansor, CEO of Aviation Management College, made a comment from the floor during the panel Q&A session that Malaysia needs to have a “high value” strategy for TEVT education.

“We must study what produces the highest value,” he suggested. “Then you don’t have to motivate the parents to encourage their kids to go there. For example, pilots. A lot of parents want their children to become pilots as even with an SPM education they can get a RM30,000-40,000 monthly in salary. It is because the value is high. This is where the Ministry of Education should study which area we want to promote ourselves. We cannot be doing everything. We need to focus on the right segment.”

Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) aims to turn Malaysia into an advanced high income economy by 2020. TEVT has been identified as a critical enabler for the ETP as an estimated 1.3 million jobs with vocational certificates or diplomas by 2020.

Dato’ Boonler said that it was important for Malaysia to possess a strong base of technically skilled workers as it needed to move into designing and making its own products like Taiwan and the Scandinavian countries.

“The Scandinavians are so good at designing,” he said.

“Malaysia must go down the path of designing and development of our own products. To do that we need vocational people who can manufacture and run the machines.”

For more videos from this panel discussion and Industry Speaks events on other topics, please visit and/or subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/PemanduETP/videos

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