LETTER | The recent statement from the Human Resources Minister on the proposal for bringing African workers to Malaysia for the palm oil industry generated much opposition. This caused the Minister to admit that the proposal would no longer be entertained.
Malaysia is facing workers shortage not only in the palm oil industry but in almost all sectors of the economy. The simple reason for this shortage is local workers are choosy and prefer jobs in a better working environment, even if these jobs pay less.
For that matter, there are not many Malaysians skilled in vocational services types of work. These are the kind of jobs which foreign workers will also take over in future as most locals shun such occupations.
Malaysia will not progress far with over-dependence on foreign workers, especially for major industries like palm oil and manufacturing. The presence of foreign workers depresses the wages, which makes it even more unlikely for Malaysians to take up these jobs.
As long as foreign workers are still available, industries will be reluctant to invest in automation and other high-end production lines, continuing to suppress wages in Malaysia.
Over time, these foreign workers will leave for other places where the pay is higher, such as the Middle East and other rapidly rising Asean nations.
Investors to Malaysia resort to automation and other means to offset workers needs in their industries, which makes jobs even more scarce for locals. Where machines cannot replace these foreign workers, it is likely that these industries will close or move to places where cheap workers are available, like Africa or other Asian nations for the palm oil industry.
To move forward, Malaysia must be bold and invest more in education and vocational skills-based industries including AI (artificial intelligence). Our population is just too small to compete with other large nations with a high demand for goods and services.
Malaysia needs to find niche industries that are to our advantage, like language skills for call centres, specialised tooling skills for precision engineering and the hospitality sector such as health care.
Hence, education reform is crucial for our future generation to capture the next wave of opportunities for their success.
Continuing with our current system will surely see Malaysia supplying workers for other countries as the next generation lack the necessary skills to fit the needs of the future.
The writer is the director of Sarawak Institute for Public Affairs (SIPA), an NGO dedicated to the betterment of the state of Sarawak and Malaysia.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.