By San Peng
One of its critics accuses it of blowing RM65 million in three years with little to show for it. Then, there are those who point out gleefully to a 2011 World Bank report on brain drain – which estimated that Malaysia has ‘lost’ an estimated one million talents, primarily to Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.
When Johan Mahmood Merican took over as TalentCorp chief executive officer on January 1, 2011, he took over a programme that had been initiated in 2001 to woo talent home to Malaysia.
In the last three years, Johan has had his share of brickbats over TalentCorp’s ‘signature product’ –the Returning Expert Programme (REP). Since 2011, TalentCorp has received almost 4,000 applications and between 2011 and 2013, more than 2,500 applications were approved.
But Johan is unfazed and is patient when it comes to answering TalentCorp’s detractors.
“(The RM65 million) covers our total operating expenditure over the three years… It is really not appropriate to take the total figure and divide by the numbers of one of our programmes (2,500 returnees since 2011). That’s really quite spurious mathematics,” Johan says.
Few people understand that TalentCorp’s mandate is broader than just wooing home overseas Malaysians. Among its tasks is to enhance talent availability to support the nation’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).
The idea is to attract and facilitate talent pools that have not been tapped fully and to serve as a bridge between the public and private sectors in the country.
Johan makes one thing clear. “We’re not an executive firm or headhunters. That’s really not a role for government but we recognise that there is a role for government where there is a market coordination failure.”
To that end, in response to demand for a wider talent pool, TalentCorp acts as “bridge” to connect employers with two groups it considers as critical – women and local graduates.
Malaysia has one of the lowest female labour participation rates in Asia (52.4% according to the World Bank) and TalentCorp wants to help the nation harness its female talent. In July 2012, TalentCorp launched flexWorkLife.my, a microsite to connect women with firms which advocate gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace through flexi-job arrangements and support facilities. The other target is graduates.
Johan (pic) shares his recent experience at a careers’ fair in the United Kingdom, organised by UKEC (United Kingdom and Eire Council of Malaysian Students) together with Graduan.
“We had a record this year. The career fair itself attracted more than 4,000 Malaysian students and we had the participation of about 40 employers from Malaysia. Part of our role at this career fair was to ensure there was a good representation of Malaysian Inc.
“We wanted to ensure, again in line with the ETP, that we had a good representation of the different the NKEA (National Key Economic Areas). So for example, this year, we had oil and gas.”
The career fair was an opportunity for top students overseas to engage with some big names like Petronas, Exxon, Shell, Intel, Dyson, Maxis, Axiata, TM and some of the biggest finance (CIMB, AIA, OCBC, Maybank) and accounting firms.
Given the ambitious nature of the ETP, in which these firms are expected to play a crucial role, there is a need for them to tap top talent.
Johan says the career fair is one way to reach out to Malaysians so that they are aware of the more exciting and rewarding career opportunities available at home.
Getting first-hand knowledge of opportunities in Malaysia
While in London, TalentCorp also took the opportunity to hold professional networking sessions with Malaysians working there. Again, it is about engagement with these employers to get first-hand knowledge of what really are the opportunities available back in Malaysia.
“Malaysians working abroad are not fully aware of the development and the speed of change that the ETP is driving,” says Johan, pointing out an example in the electrical and electronics sector which is moving away from pure manufacturing into research and development.
That sort of change means there is now a real demand for Malaysians with the right skills to be employed in high-paying jobs commensurable with their abilities and talent.
There is also a real commitment from Malaysian Inc, corporate leaders – heavyweights – coming out in reaching out for talent.
Johan is keen to leverage on this support, saying “We’ve broaden the areas we’re looking into… (and are now) into optimising the young graduate talent coming out of local universities.”
Johan is an advocate of looking at the bigger picture where talent availability is concerned.
GEMS (Graduate Employment Management Scheme), for instance, places graduates in a two-month placement. It’s an upskilling programme designed to enhance graduate employability.
It might come as a surprise to some that a large portion of TalentCorp’s allocation is spent on graduates and assisting them in getting a job.
“We take a three-pronged approach. Raising awareness, enhance exposure and directly enhance employability,” says Johan.
Companies are offered some incentives to provide a good internship experience. TalentCorp can boast of placing out 11,000 local undergraduates under the internship programme last year.
As for the 6,000 unemployed grads it helped, the conversion rate of almost 87% shows that intervention works in the jobs market. With this kind of achievement, TalentCorp is giving its critics some figures to chew on.