Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sergeants are better than Lieutenants

This is one of the messages that the government needs to send out as soon as possible.

Let us be clear about this. There will be no economic stimulus quick-fix that can reverse an economic downturn in Malaysia. All that an economic stimulus package can do is to soften the blow.

One of the key areas of Malaysia's economic policy that needs to be revamped is the low-cost centre approach to economic development and, to attract FDIs.

How do we do it?

Human resource development
How do we develop Malaysia's greatest resource i.e. it's citizens?

Vocational training
The answer is to allocate greater financial resources into vocational training institutions.

A lot of resources have been allocated to tertiary education. We even have a ministry devoted to it. It's called the Ministry of Higher Education. The results have not been encouraging. But, I'm not interested in this issue at the moment.

For the moment, my call is for a fiscal allocation directed towards vocational training in the following manner:
  • The improvement of existing training programmes at existing vocational institutions.
  • The creation of new training programmes especially in the area of:

- Electronics

- Mechanics

- Industrial design

- Oil & gas technologies

- (whatever else that I have overlooked)
  • Increasing the number of lecturers and trainers for these programmes by recalling retired Malaysians who have practical experience in relevant aspects of the vocational training programmes. Advertise these job vacancies. Retired, experienced Malaysians will respond.
  • Subsidise the cost of these training courses.
  • Subsidise the costs even more for applicants who have financial difficulties. Use a means test to determine eligibility.
Sergeants are better than lieutenants
This is one of the surest factor to successfully implement the Malaysian economic strategy to shift us from a low-cost centre to a higher cost, higher skills centre.

We know we cannot compete with Vietnam, Thailand or India as low-cost industrial centres.

And, if you have watched the TV series Combat from the 1960s (still showing sometimes on TV2 nowadays) you will know that the real work is done by Sergeant Saunders and Corporal Kirby. The Lieutenant comes in only once in a while.

This Combat example is a perfect analogy for vocational training for diplomas that creates Corporals and Sergeants that can do the job at the shop floor.

The Lieutenant's role are played by graduates from tertiary institutions with a lot of theory. They wear neck-ties and sit in air-conditioned offices. They push paper.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But, when real work needs to be done, it has to be the Malaysians with vocational training.

Ministries involved?
For good measure, the following Ministers need to get cracking on this proposal:
  • Minister of Finance (either 1 or 2) - for the financial allocation and audit of use of funds; and
  • Minister of Human Resources - to work with the vocational institutions and deployment of funds;
  • Minister of International Trade and Industry - to identify the economic sectors that Malaysia is seeking to promote as part of the strategic shift from a low-cost centre to high-cost, high-skills centre.

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