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Malaysia's economic plan targets high-tech role

Posted: 01 Nov 2000 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Penang? multimedia super corridor? Kulim Hi-Tech Park?

Malaysia's economic plan targets high-tech role

The Malaysian government plans to unveil an economic master plan in early November that will stress the need for boosting high-technology capabilities. The initiative mirrors similar efforts by other governments throughout the region, prompting some Asian observers to question whether Malaysia can catch up in time to compete globally.

Michael Marks, a project leader with a multinational software company working on Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor project, said the Malaysian "economy has rebounded to register a growth [rate] of 5.6 per cent in 1999 from a contraction of 7.5 per cent in 1998." Malaysia's GDP also increased to 11.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2000.

"The only concern is its willingness to employ foreign professionals who have the necessary knowledge and skills to run such an economy," Marks added. "The government has come up with some legislation to tackle this shortage of foreign talent, but there have to be more incentives to lure foreign talent to Malaysia."

Competing for EEs
The talent shortage is complicated by the fact that Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong also are competing for foreign engineers to boost their own fledgling IT-based economies. To make matters worse, the nation is suffering from its own brain drain. "Malaysia has to plug this brain drain and [encourage] a reverse brain drain, giving more incentives and opportunities to those who want to return and participate in this knowledge-based economy," Marks said.

A Malaysian technology official said the manufacturing and service sectors have begun creating new capacities as well as replacing existing ones to meet demand for new products and services. "The output growth in the manufacturing sector increased by 29.7 per cent in the first four months of 2000: double-digit growth both in the export-oriented as well as the domestic-oriented industries," he said. "This has, in turn, contributed to a trade surplus of more than $6.6 billion ever since the beginning of this year."

Manufacturing alone contributes more than 40 per cent of the trade surplus. Malaysia's over-reliance on manufacturing is a double-edged sword. Despite the increases in foreign investments, there has been an acute shortage of skilled labour needed to run the factories in Kulim Hi-Tech Park and even Penang, the emerging semiconductor fabrication hub in Malaysia.

The country's total exports of electrical and electronics products in 1999 amounted to $46.9 billion.

According to Ling, the impact of the knowledge economy will immediately be felt in the labour market here, since fewer workers will be needed for that economy than for the manufacturing sector. "There will also be a period of difficulty for these workers to upgrade and improve their skills," he said. Hence, there will be a need to retrain workers and hold onto IT professionals. Along with the acknowledged need to retain its IT professionals, the government is also offering incentives to foreign engineers to come to Malaysia.

? Tony Santiago
? ? EE Times

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