Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Competition for the brain power

THREE international personalities took part in a forum on innovation and change for business sustainability organised by the Graduate School of Business of the Universiti Sains Malaysia last week.


There was this professor from a highly reputable university in Australia who was born in Fiji. He is also the editor of a number of international accounting journals.

Another panellist was a director at a research centre of an international company in California. He was born in India and now advises a number of business schools around the world.

Next was a professor who was born in Ukraine, educated in Sweden and now based in Japan but offers her services in other Asian countries outside Japan.

The US, Japan and Australia are ranked second, eighth and 15th in the 2009 Competitiveness Index by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The economies of these countries are also deemed to be at the third stage of development where competitiveness is driven by innovation.

Innovation, especially at the top end of the scale, can only be possible by having brain power that is highly educated and creative.

If the international personalities mentioned above are taken as examples, we can deduce that advanced economies give priority to the quality of the brain and care less about where they come from.

Furthermore, the low birth rates in developed countries require them to bring in more talents from abroad to ensure their innovation engines continue to churn out globally competitive solutions to be marketed worldwide.

So when it was reported in parliament that more than 300,000 Malaysians migrated to other countries between March 2008 and August this year, we Malaysians should be seriously concerned.

Ranked 24th in the Competitiveness Index and deemed a Stage 2 economy whereby competitiveness is still driven by higher degrees of efficiencies in producing quality products, we need all the talents and brain power to transition ourselves to the next stage.

Apart from following the spouses, all other reasons why these Malaysians migrated — education, brighter career and business prospects — point to the risk of the country being trapped in the middle-income economy.

Our income level would not allow us to offer competitive remuneration or rewards for talented people who are also demanded by many other countries.

If we look around, there have been many developing countries which eventually ended up as the producers of talents for more developed countries as they could not, on the basis of income levels alone, retain their best.

At the same time, most global companies have a worldwide recruitment policy in sourcing for the brightest and smartest individuals irrespective of the colour of the skin that wrap their brains. To them, the quality of the brain is the paramount consideration!

Perhaps it is time to pause and reflect on the ways we manage talents in this country. Are there policies which our competitors would like us to retain so that they could grab highly talented Malaysians who are denied opportunities due to the colour of their skin?

Some might argue that most Malaysians, especially the Malays, are non-migratory and will continue to serve the country. Well, post-Internet Malaysians may have a very different worldview altogether. The Internet has allowed these young people to have a borderless mindset.

They could seek whatever information from wherever that they want. They develop friendships with many people whom they never meet from around the globe and are able to express themselves freely through various platforms such as blogs or other social media.

A lot of them are playing games with God-knows-who from other parts of the world through the Internet. To them the world is borderless. What will happen when they start to look for jobs or building their careers?

An interesting example of how countries respond to opportunities in the talent competition would be the case of the accountancy profession in Singapore.

Last year, they announced the vision of positioning Singapore as the global accountancy hub in the next 10 years. They formed a high level committee and recently, a comprehensive blueprint on how this would be achieved was issued for public consultation.

A simple guess is that they will implement the plan by next year.

The Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA) has been proposing to position Malaysia as the hub of accountancy education and training even before the Singaporean initiative was announced.

In fact, given the infrastructure and the presence of global accountancy bodies in this country, this is a low-hanging fruit ready to be plucked.

What is required is only for foreign students to be allowed to work in selected organisations in pursuing their professional accountancy qualifications.

If we cannot do this in quick time, how are we going to attract and retain talents to compete? Hopefully, this is not the case of Malaysia Tak Boleh.

We look forward to the revelation of the roadmap to move ourselves into a high-income economy soon. It would be a surprise if the issues of retaining talents and fair distribution of opportunities for talented Malaysians are not the key part of this grand plan.

This article was also published at the Edge Malaysia website here:

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