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).