• Madani Sahari

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY - Matching growth with changing trends

Consumer confidence in the automotive industry seems to have rebounded this year compared to last year, which was mired by economic uncertainty due to the appreciation of the US dollar.

Even though dollar levels are arguably still not ideal, it seems to have not hampered industry growth as a whole - particularly due to strong economic principles that have been created since the the 2014 launch of the National Policy which developed specific focus on competitiveness and the gradual liberalisation of the industry.

These setbacks did not hamper the creation of employment within the industry - 87,382 new jobs were created since the policy was introduced, of which 39,819 jobs were created through the Human Capital Development programmes undertaken by Malaysia Automotive Institute.

Exports of automotive parts and components rise to RM11.2 billion last year, with August figures indicating a higher performance this year. Total industry volume figures until last month had shown slight improvement in domestic sales compared with last year.

The manufacturing sector in Malaysia has shown its best growth since the beginning of the year, as indicated by Nikkei Malaysia's manufacturing purchasing managers' index.

Malaysia has developed its foundation to remain resilient in tough times.

Despite facing one of the toughest foreign exchange challenge since its last economic crisis two decades ago, economic indicators are pointing to a faster rebound rate - a clear signal of economic fundamentals leading to stronger resilience.

However, as times change, so do trends and norms. The fundamentals of today may not be the same as tomorrow, requiring us to quickly shift to ensure that businesses cater to future demands, backed by human capital and technology that can deliver to such demands.

It is for this reason, numerous programmes have been developed by the government to ensure such a transition takes place efficiently.

One of the key realisations is Malaysia's shift from dependence on commodities towards participation in higher yield global value chain.

As far as the manufacturing sector is concerned, this commodity dependence has traditionally thrived on cheaper labour costs.

Current trends, however, indicate the quality of the job market must begin to revolve around skilled, creative and innovative labour pools.

The advent of the fourth industrial revolution will in essence force labour intensive sectors into the lower rungs of economic yield, should there be no change in operational thinking.

Without oversimplifying the matter at hand, the early symptoms would be a slow response to automation.

A shift towards this has been implemented by the government in its recent budgets, moving towards Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), 2U2I initiatives and apprenticeship programmes within the public technical universities and agencies.

This change in education mindset is expected to alter the path of formal education to include automation-oriented skills and knowledge and prepare graduates for immediate relevance in the job market.

Such a shift must also be planned together with the operations systems of the industry.

While there is a clamour for more qualified and relevant graduates within the workforce, it is important for industry players to create the space for such careers to thrive and progress.

In summary, we have demonstrated the Malaysian spirit of resilience - the setbacks that we have faced have taught us lessons to become stronger.

Let us keep this positive outlook and move forward and create an ecosystem for all of us to stay relevant and remain competitive.

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