Building an education talent ecosystem in Penang to boost economy

It is important to build a conducive ecosystem in Penang to develop an industry-ready workforce, and attract talents from other states and overseas. This will overcome the skills shortage in Penang and boost its economy.

That was the consensus of the speakers during the session on “Education, Talent, Knowledge and Human Capital – Key Success Factors for Penang” at the Penang Future Forward Summit 2023 on 14 March 2023.

The moderator (centre) with the panellists.

The panellists were Prof Dr Lily Chan, Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor of WOU; Dato’ Dr Vaseehar Hassan, Executive Vice Chairman of KSI; Tan Chin Kong, Vice President of Strategic Business Development, NationGate Solution (M) Sdn Bhd; and Tan Eng Tong, Chief Executive Officer of Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC). The President of Penang-Chengdu Friendship Association, Stephen Lai, acted as moderator.

The summit was jointly organised by KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific (KSI) and the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MICCI). It was attended by over 300 people, mainly representatives from industry, government agencies and higher learning institutions.

Prof Chan quoted figures that Penang aims to attract 150,000 knowledge workers from other states in the next five years to meet the skills shortage.

Prof Chan talks about education talent as an ecosystem issue.

She also shared that only 45% of the overall 400,000 SPM students are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). “We must up this percentage to 70% before we can meet the nation’s talents needs. Parents play an important role as students must be trained in STEM from young.”

She proposed that education talent be viewed as an ecosystem issue, comprising of four equations or stakeholders – higher learning institutions, government agencies, industries and companies, and the community.

Citing figures to drive home her point.

She said institutions are currently upgrading their programmes and courses. She equally hoped to see government agencies, namely the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) and the Immigration department, working in sync for harmonised policies and strategies to be implemented.

She said universities should also work closely with industry and companies to understand their needs and upgrade courses. She called for the organising of more activities in schools and kindergartens at the community-level, and for teachers to be trained in digitalisation so that they can teach the kids and promote the interest.  

Dr Vaseehar lamented on the skills gap among the workforce and the poor command of the English language among university students.

Dr Vaseehar calls for the rebuilding of the education system.

He said the zeal to improve Bahasa Malaysia has somehow destroyed the once strong Malaysian education system, and also faulted the ‘killing’ of the missionary schools.

He said today’s graduates cannot fit into the job market because of the poor quality of education, adding that the whole education system must now be rebuilt.

CK Tan asserted that companies in Penang would require university graduates who are able to use contemporary technological tools for improved work efficiency.

Graduates must be equipped for the digital world of work, says CK Tan.

ET Tan spoke about bringing talents in, highlighting that the factories in Penang have advanced technologies, which many parents are unaware of. “Innovation is the only way forward for Penang to compete, using the same workforce executing higher value tasks.”

He suggested companies collectively promote Penang to schools and parents so as to get more children to pursue STEM.

ET Tan spoke on the need to convince parents about STEM.
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