Dr Ismail Aby Jamal

Dr Ismail Aby Jamal
Born in Batu 10, Kg Lubok Bandan, Jementah, Segamat, Johor

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Malaysia has great talent. Unfortunately, the world knows it! Hence, there is a great demand for our talent………

Saturday September 10, 2011

Your 10 questions with Johan Mahmood Merican

1. What makes your job interesting and exciting? Bernard Gideon Lim, Penang

TalentCorp is a startup formed in January this year. That in itself is exciting. What makes it more exciting is the scope for TalentCorp to address talent needs for the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). It is a new challenge for the country. There is no tried and tested method. It's like the Star Trek catchphrase, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”. It has been and promises to continue to be an interesting and exciting journey. It is particularly engaging as the issue of talent is probably one of the most important enablers of the future success of Malaysia. Further, Malaysians are passionate about talent. Over the past eight months, my team and I have met and worked with a lot of inspiring individuals who have continued to support and encourage our work.

2. What are the challenges your organisation faces when trying to entice talented Malaysians to come back to work? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

Malaysia has great talent. Unfortunately, the world knows it! Hence, there is a great demand for our talent. The challenge for the country is therefore to compete for our talent. This is key given many talented Malaysians possess the experience and expertise to contribute to Malaysia's development aspirations. The overall value proposition to work in Malaysia needs to be continually enhanced. In this regard, the Government is driving the government transformation, which among others contributes towards enhancing the living standards and environment for talent.

Equally important, the private sector as employers will need to raise the attractiveness of building careers here in Malaysia. Nevertheless, as this effort is in progress, there are currently great professional opportunities in Malaysia. Given the level of scepticism, a major challenge for TalentCorp is to collaborate with employers to raise the awareness and convince talented Malaysians of the available opportunities that are suited for them to do well in Malaysia.

3. How is the effort in drawing talented Malaysians back to the country progressing? If it is not up to expectation, what could have gone wrong? Sivaletchumayah Sivalingam, Puchong, KL

TalentCorp runs the Returning Expert Programme (REP), which has been in existence since 2001 but was transferred to us this year. Since the Prime Minister's announcement of an improved incentive package under the REP in April 2011, we have seen an increase in interest. Last year, about 160 were approved to return. We've doubled that already in the first half of this year. And the numbers continue to look strong.

But, more importantly, what really matters is the quality of people who return, that they actually meet the needs of the industry. So, I am quite encouraged that some of the people who are returning are very experienced and include those with engineering, finance, and ICT background, which are highly in demand. As we are new in this effort, we are aware much more needs to be done to engage with a broader range of Malaysians overseas and to facilitate their return.

4. Do you agree that talented Malaysians leave the country because of unfavourable government policies and unfair educational and career opportunities here? How then can you convince them to return? Elle Subra, Bangsar, KL

I think when you look at the motivations of talent and where they choose to work, it's due to a lot of factors. If I can just broadly categorise them, they would be economics, related to pay level and its associated quality of life. Second is their future professional development. And the third is related to the environment and lifestyle.

In this respect, the Government is driving government transformation initiatives to address issues such as security, education and infrastructure. Parallel to this, the ETP has been put in place to lift the country to developed nation status and, in the process, raise the income level.

Hence, the attractiveness of Malaysia is on an upward trend. One has the choice of either viewing the glass as half empty or half full. Yes, we have room for improvement but now is an exciting time to return to Malaysia and contribute to make things better.

5. How can we do better locally to prevent our best minds from leaving the country? David Tih, Malacca

In today's globalised and highly mobile world, there will inevitably be movement of talent in and out of our country. This is the same elsewhere. It adds to the richness and diversity of the workforce. I personally believe that if we can provide credible, meaningful platforms for Malaysians to feel that they can really make a difference, a lot of us whether in Malaysia or overseas want to contribute to this country.

A good example is Pua Kim Sein, the founder of the Taiwan-based company which made the Pendrive. Despite being overseas for the past 20 years, he returns to Malaysia regularly and has business partners here. Pua's story reminds me of a Chinese proverb which says that no matter how high a tree grows, its leaves will fall to its roots.

So while we wouldn't want to stop Malaysians from reaching their potential outside, if that is where they are optimised, we would like to be able to leverage on their experience and expertise to touch the lives of other Malaysians. They can act as advisers to upcoming Malaysian businesses, introduce Malaysians to a larger network overseas, or channel investments back to the country.

6. Will you penalise those who have accepted the REP and then opt to work abroad on his/her second year? Audrey Lee, Kuala Lumpur

The Prime Minister in April 2011 had announced a revised REP incentive package to encourage Malaysian professionals overseas to return home and contribute to the ETP. This includes, among others, a flat tax rate of 15% on employment income for five years and two tax-free locally assembled cars. These incentives are conditional on the returnee working in Malaysia for at least five years. Opting to work abroad in the second year would result in a clawback of the incentives.

7. With the Government failing to implement an effective English language policy, how does your corporation think it will achieve its goal of identifying and developing more talented Malaysian workers for the future? Marisa Demori, Ipoh

From a company human resource perspective, a key part of talent development is managing the pipeline. There will always be people resigning or retiring, so you need to ensure the right number and quality of talent enters the pipeline. At the country level, we have a limited talent pool. As such, we need to channel them to key priority sectors represented by the National Key Economic Areas to ensure that our economy keeps growing.

TalentCorp is committed to collaborating with relevant public agencies and private sector to develop initiatives towards this. One area is creating greater career awareness among the youth today of the potential future career paths arising out of the ETP and how to pursue such careers. With respect to English, clearly for success in many careers, a strong command of English is important. Beyond efforts being taken by the Government to improve the standard of English, the community has an equally important role. Mastery of language is through regular usage and therefore, progress will be hindered if, for example, schoolchildren are discouraged from regularly speaking in English by their peers or parents.

8. Many talented Malaysian students who have taken up Public Service Department (PSD) scholarships for tertiary studies abroad have not returned to serve the country. Some did return and checked in with the Government, but no position was offered to them. Has TalentCorp taken any measures to address this problem and how? Wong Pui Yi, KL

The Government has always provided more scholarships than the requirements of the public sector. In the past, those not offered positions with the Government would naturally work in the private sector in Malaysia, thus contribute to the economy. However, today's talent has many options overseas. Recognising this, TalentCorp collaborated with PSD and last month launched two key initiatives for PSD scholars to build careers in the GTP and ETP priority sectors. The Talent Acceleration in Public Service (TAPS) programme is a collaborative initiative led by PSD, with the Razak School of Government and TalentCorp, to attract and nurture top PSD scholars into the civil service. Meanwhile, scholars not selected for the public sector will participate in the Scholarship Talent Attraction & Retention (STAR) programme. This is a collaborative effort between PSD and TalentCorp, for PSD scholars to serve their bonds working in leading companies driving the ETP. Through TAPS and STAR, the nation optimises by channelling our scholarship talent to contribute to the priority areas of the Government and economic transformation.

9. What has been your biggest failure in life? How did you overcome it? Melissa Ong, Sabah

After graduating from Cambridge with a first-class honours, I was brimming with confidence as I started to work in an audit firm in London. It turned out that while I was a good student, I was the complete opposite at the audit firm and was one of the worst performers professionally in my year. That was my first major failure in life. However, I believe with every failure, there is hikmah. The failure taught me humility and forced me to better understand myself my strengths and interest. I wasn't cut out to be an auditor. But that failure led me to try other paths, a few of which I would not have considered before, such as the public sector. As it turned out, working in the public sector is where I found my calling. I am motivated by the fulfilment from being able to contribute.

10. What are the three things that could keep you happy in life? Why? Naza, Perak

First, seeing my children grow up and be happy, fulfilled and have good values, which must include contributing to society. Second, finding personal fulfilment in my work. As we spend so much of our waking moments working, it is important for me to be challenged and know that my efforts contribute to making a difference. Which brings me to the third. I would like to see Malaysia reach its potential. We truly have a lot going for us resources, stability and great talent. We therefore should be a great country. However, it would require us to be pulling in the same direction. Whether we succeed as a nation, it is up to us.


RAM Holdings group chief economist DR YEAH KIM LENG is one of the country's well-known economists who has been involved in numerous consultancy and research projects for both the private and public sectors. He used to be a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia.

Any burning questions to ask him? Email 10questions@thestar.com.my


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