Thursday, 23 May 2019

Competitiveness is developing core capabilities

The United States-China trade war that started early last year took another twist last week with new US restrictions on technology that could pose a risk to its national security, and worst affected by the ban was Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a leading provider of technology equipment.
The restrictions led to a ban on the Chinese technology firm from buying components and technology made in the US.
Interestingly, Huawei’s founder seemed to brush off the impacts of the restrictions, saying its 5G push wouldn’t be affected and, in fact, boldly proclaimed that “nobody will be able to catch up” with Huawei.
Ren Zhengfei also thanked the US suppliers for their support previously and said his company would survive and thrive.
While only time will tell how this will play out – how long this trade war will last, and what are the impacts it will pose to companies and value chains around the world – the key point that struck me was how bold these companies can be in the face of crisis.
To be as bold in the face of global adversity requires confidence backed by core capabilities that are unrivalled and dominant.
The ability to develop and supply 5G networking equipment has been a driver in the Chinese technology firm’s dominance, allowing it to evolve into the world’s biggest supplier of telecommunications equipment. Huawei leads market shareholding in mobile soft switches, broadband cards, optical hardware and mobile network equipment, among others.
The brand is not only strong within the business-to-business market but also the business-to-consumer markets as the third largest global market shareholder after Samsung and Apple Inc.
The brand popularity emerged through strong blends of traditional public relations campaigns and clever digital marketing. Most importantly, it boasts 21 research and development institute in countries all over the world – creating high-end careers for a multinational network of expertise and value chains.
All this was built in the span of only three decades, as the company was founded by Ren in 1987, and in the same space as major technology names the likes of Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, Nokia and Ericsson.
When we cite examples such as Huawei of China, Nokia of Finland, Ericsson of Sweden – the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. For us to move forward and develop our capabilities, there are no standards or criteria for success.
Advantages and disadvantages can be broken by a multitude of political, social or economic disruptions. Populations – large or small – have all recorded global success, and countries have emerged from war and poverty to become global economic superpowers in the span of mere decades.
As a nation moving in the area of connected mobility and technology, it is important to look into developing critical mass and core capabilities in emerging technology fields, particularly in automation and Internet of Things-based technologies such as artificial intelligence, nano-engineering, data science, vehicle connectivity, etc, to ensure a thriving value chain exists and has the capabilities to meet global demands.
As the transportation and telecommunications industries converge in the future, policy frameworks, regulation and implementation must be realigned with new business strategies and development to ensure continuity.
It is important for us to study the trends that affect the global economy, and foresee how it will benefit our own economy.
Analysts have suggested that Malaysia is well placed as Chinese firms relocate their supply chains due to the trade war, particularly in communication, electronic integrated circuits and natural gas products – due to our business-friendly environment and stable policy administration.
As I pondered how one man can be so confident in facing risks worth billions of dollars, I realised that risks can be mitigated through perseverance, self-development and foresight.
You don’t need a backup plan if your preparation presents one whenever you need it.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Building meaningful employer-employee relationship

There is a significant distinction between employment and employability. While the opportunities for employment are aplenty in Malaysia, it is equally important to identify the demands and requirements of the said jobs.
Creating a progressive society means developing a critical mass of highly employable talent. As many seek for their dream jobs, employers too look for “dream worker” who can meet the demands of the industry – from the technical, moral and professional standpoints.
Let’s look at the employer-employee relationship from both perspectives. The modern corporate world has evolved to a point where there is a need to create work-life balance for employees – a lack thereof leads to increased health hazards, reduced productivity, etc.
In the past few years, the debate about wage gaps had continuously recurred, indicating public sentiment that Malaysians were largely underpaid compared with more advanced nations. Unfortunately, it is not just a matter of regulation, but rather a sense of value between two parties.
Any contract between two or more consenting parties must be as fair as possible by protecting the interest of all involved.
In an employment contract, the employer pays a certain fee (or salary) in exchange for services rendered by the employee and the employee by obtaining a fixed income. Conflict arises when the employee feels overworked, exploited or undercompensated or the employee’s performance becomes an issue for the company.
Now, perspective is key to a positive way forward. The tipping point for a healthy employer-employee relationship is often not the price, but more about the value of the relationship.
While it is natural for direct or indirect revenue to be generated from an employment contract, the employee increases the image and value, and new capacities and capabilities of the organisation’s arsenal. In return, the company absorbs the risks of employment to provide an environment of financial security and continuous learning for the employee.
This synergy from the employee-employer relationship is what pushes both towards higher income and greater capabilities over time.
However, one thing has changed – while job opportunities are increasing, the ability to fill them has evolved as we progress through Industry 4.0. Today, skills training are highly specialized and require a reinvention of adult learning to keep up with the demand of the fast-paced learning curve.
It, therefore, becomes highly important to address employability of our current workforce by  ensuring relevance and competitiveness in the future.
Malaysia Automotive Robotics and IoT Institute has implemented several programmes to cater to rapidly changing learning curves through the Industry Led Professional Certificate and the Automotive Industry Certificate Engineering.
These programmes not only add current industrial dimensions through modules in IATF 16949, automotive core tools and a deep understanding of the five sectors of the automotive industry, but also advanced subjects in Internet of Things and robotics specific to component manufacturing processes within the automotive supply chain. This includes original equipment manufacturing-specific processes within body, paint and assembly works.
Trainees will be exposed to the underlying programming and coding needed to achieve the productivity levels of automotive manufacturing in line with Industry 4.0.
More importantly, the trainees undergo on-job-training with the industry for six to eight months, as future competency is not only based on skills and knowledge, but also passion, motivation and culture that can only be inculcated through first-hand experience on the job.
At the end of the day, employment is not an activity, but a relationship and experience that enriches the individual. It works to develop the society as a whole.
This Ramadhan, let us self-reflect and re-evaluate our values – identifying our weaknesses, strengthening our advantages, and remembering those in need.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Time for reflection and self-discovery

We are fortunate to yet again celebrate the coming of another month of self-reflection.
While we cleanse our bodies, free our minds and hearts from sins, and enrich our spirits with prayer and good deeds through the ritual of fasting, I’d also like to take this opportunity to share new angles, perhaps seldom discussed among us – in the spirit of self-reflection.
In order to do this, let us look back at history.
The battles of Badr and Tabuk were fought in 629 and 634 AD, respectively – interestingly both took place in the month of Ramadan.
The success in the battle of Badr, particularly, stamped the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) position as an important figure within the region, paving the way for more successes for Muslims in the next few years. Furthermore, Ramadan also saw the peaceful conquest of Makkah by the Prophet, circa 630 AD.
Clearly, some of the most significant events in Islamic history was achieved in a time of fasting.
From the perspective of basic human needs, the prohibition of food and water intake is seen as a disadvantage to those who are fasting. We also tend to develop a sense of empathy for the fasting person, out of respect for such as “demanding” practice.
At the same time, the person practising also may seem entitled to certain “rights”, such as reduced workload and designated time in preparation of the daily breaking of the fast.
While it is common practice out of respect for the holy month, we must also be aware that the we are fortunate to have such a choice – to slow down during the fasting month.
History shows that is never a choice granted for everyone.
Which is why, in self-reflection, we should never take our fasting as an excuse of disadvantage, or as a given right to reduce our own burdens.
In fact, for many of us in this country, we have always had the luxury of the choice mentioned above. It is for this reason, Ramadan presents us with opportunities to strengthen our of humility values and to help others.
It is a clear and noble principle for those who are privileged to always help those who are less fortunate. This help may not be only monetary, but most importantly, it should be done to bring opportunities to those who need them. The act of giving zakat fitrah enshrines this – although it is a small token equivalent to two bushels of rice, it is mandatory on those who are able, male or female.
On top of the zakat paid, there are many ways for us to help the unfortunate. If you don’t have money to spare, teach someone a new skill, give away things you may not need – in some way or another it will help someone.
In conclusion, while we take in the daytime hunger and thirst during Ramadhan, always remember that there are those who face this hunger and thirst throughout the day and around the year.
Also, remember that for some, this hunger and thirst was not an excuse to execute strategies and plans that changed their destinies and achieved great success.
This Ramadan, let us again take a step back with patience, open mindedness and a willingness to change. Let us also reflect on how, as a nation, we can achieve higher levels of success and remain competitive in a world, where values and virtue can easily be eroded due to the nature of competition.
“We do not learn from experience, but we learn from reflecting on experience.”
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Time to recognise skills-based careers

Numerous reports were published about the Malaysian government’s visit to China last week, triggering numerous collaborations between local and Chinese firms, particularly in the new technology areas such as artificial intelligence, smart logistics and automotive design.
One should ponder how China, once known only for the flood of cheap goods into the world’s markets, has emerged not only as an economic powerhouse but also a contributor to the global technology renaissance as the world goes through its fourth industrial revolution.
Against all odds, brands such as Huawei, Lenovo, Alibaba, and DJI have become household names when it comes to technology applications that are on par with traditionally dominating brands around the world.
One of the major contributors to China’s success has been its large pool of skilled labour. Out of its 165 million skilled workforce, a third are “highly-skilled”. This is a large number compared with the rest of the nations in the world.
The key point here is simple: in order to remain competitive, the critical mass of recognised skilled workforce cannot be overstated.
Similar to the previous industrial revolutions, led primarily by the trans-Atlantic dominance, a skilled workforce played a vital role in the industrialisation of major western economies.
In Germany, more than 500,000 young people graduate from apprenticeship contracts – a system of education in which they are attached to an occupation within a company, related to a skills area of interest.
The apprentice also attends school where more comprehensive theory and subjects are taught to supplement and enhance the professional ability of the apprentice, eventually emerging as a skilled specialist in his or her trade.
While many successful education models can be emulated to breed both academically-oriented and skilled talent, at the core of the issue is the recognition of skills as a viable career.
In this case, I am not referring to the plentiful skills recognition programmes that already exist, such as the National Skills Certificate, in which the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute is the industry lead body for skills development in the automotive industry.
Rather, we must recognise skills as a viable career choice – as a society. To achieve this, a paradigm shift must take place at all levels, within the home, the workplace, the school and also at a governance level.
Perhaps the solution to a shortage of places in universities may not lie in the creation of new placements, but rather in the appropriate placement of potential talent.
Our society at large must refrain from labelling those who are not academically prone as failures, but rather develop their potential in skill-based career paths.
At the same time, businesses and educators should remove inferiority complex from their skill-based talent pool that their positions are a second choice compared with those who are within the academic-based education stream.
It has been far too long that the only path of career progression is laced with labels such as “General Manager”, “COO (chief operating officer)” or “CEO (chief executive officer)”.
Perhaps, terms such as “specialist” should deserve equal attention – as a recognition in a person who may not succeed through the traditional corporate leadership route, but as the best person in achieving a task due to the plethora of skills available within him or her.
Moving forward, it is high time for the government, academia and the industry to instill moral and institutional recognition to our youth based on their inherent abilities, be it academic or skill-based. Only then can we create a critical mass of talent that is not “motivated” by scrolls or certificates, but by passion and drive to excel in the fields of their choice.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Workers’ Day!
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii).
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