Where are the young Malays?

Where are the young Malays?

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad


A few months ago, a human resource manager at an international bank approached me. He wanted my help to find top young Malays for the bank’s fast-track management programme. “Where are the young Malays?” he asked.

One of the major cornerstones of the New Economic Policy (NEP) is the scholarship system. While scholarships existed prior to the NEP, it was only after the NEP in the 1970s that a large-scale government scholarship programme was initiated to send students to the top universities around the world. It had a huge impact not only on the NEP but also on our developmental success as a whole.

These scholars later joined the civil service and government-linked companies (GLCs), and many later left for the private sector as their contract ended and the opportunity beckoned in Malaysia Incorporated. The backbone of the Malay middle class today is largely a product of this system.

This system is still a crucial feature of our public policy. The best Form Five students are identified by their SPM performance, and then selected for preparatory and foundation studies before being sent to the top universities around the world. Upon graduation, they will come back to serve their respective sponsors for about five to 10 years.

But in conversations I had with various people — investment bankers, management consultants, young entrepreneurs, and chief executive officers — there’s a realisation that there needs to be a radical new approach. The current model results in an inefficient use of human resource (predominantly Malay at that), and may not be the most effective way to meet the objective it was originally designed for.

While millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money have been invested to give the best possible tertiary education to these crème de la crème, many of them end up caged in jobs that do not fully make use of their potential. In business terms, this is a poor return on investment.

At the same time, with the advent of globalisation and liberalisation, job opportunities for young graduates are wider and more competitive these days. But while students who are privately sponsored or scholars who are not bound to their sponsors are able to reap the benefits of this development, sponsored students find themselves at a disadvantage.

That was why a young investment banker lamented that an often overlooked reason for the lack of young Malay graduates in multinationals and private companies is that a large number of them find themselves bound to their respective sponsors. Yes, other reasons are at play, such as the quality of graduates and discrimination, but those have often been discussed.

One might ask: Isn’t their contract of service only for an initial five to 10 years? They can certainly explore other opportunities after the end of their contracts. Two problems arise here: First, they have missed out at the earliest opportunity to do so, and secondly, while they may be free of their contract, they are now in a comfort zone — bound by their financial and personal commitments — and tend to become risk-averse.

But let’s go beyond whining and ranting. For all the limitations of the current set-up, one cannot overlook the fact that the interests of the sponsors — be they the government or GLCs — must be taken into account. It’s unreasonable to expect them to invest so much money every year in human capital, only for them not to reap the returns.

There is a practical way forward, provided we allow ourselves to think outside the box. I have learnt that some sponsors are actually looking into these alternatives as they too realise the problems that I have raised above.

One way is to provide a flexible period for graduates to serve their contract of service. It can still be five to 10 years, but they are allowed to choose to finish their contract terms anytime within, say, 15 to 20 years. Therefore, the graduates have the choice to either serve the sponsors immediately, or to postpone their service while working in a top private firm, either locally or overseas. Even if they choose to start with their sponsors, they should be allowed to take career breaks to gain experience in other private firms or sabbaticals to attend top graduate schools in the course of their employment.

Admittedly, there is a risk that some might land a well-paying job which would allow them or the employer to buy out the contract. This is a real risk, but since part of the purpose of the whole programme was to produce Malay professionals, the government and GLCs should consider this as part of their contribution to the national interest, especially since their financial outlay is being reimbursed.

Furthermore, many GLCs have diverse subsidiaries and associated companies, and they should allow their scholars to gain different experiences and perspectives through these different companies. This will expose these graduates to the best practices locally and internationally in order for them to develop professionally and contribute to their respective sponsors.

Another way is to provide a fast-track system in the public sector and GLCs for their scholars. This will be an important motivational factor for the scholars, while at the same time allowing the sponsors to leverage on their investment. Combined with the first suggestion, the GLCs will also be able to benefit from the experience, perspective and skills gained by the scholars in various top-class firms and organisations.

This will solve two burning issues that plague the current set-up — a dearth of top young Malay graduates in the private sector, as well as the low return on investment for the government and GLCs on the scholarship programme.

Then, when someone asks where the young Malays are, we can confidently say they are working in the top multinational and private firms around the world, as well in the public sector and GLCs with a competitive and forward-looking career path. And definitely, not becoming Mat Rempits! Isn’t that the true spirit of the NEP?

source : www.niknazmi.com and was published in The Edge newspaper on October 2006 where i read this for the first time.

p/s: This is very true, u can ask the Petronas Scholar that are not in engineering - they were put anywhere in the organization and for me this is waste. Bright students were given a full scholar to continue their study and after that have to serve with their organization and working in the area that are totally different from their studies - they can't do what have been thought in the University err for me this is ridicilous.
Nik Nazmi said "While millions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money have been invested to give the best possible tertiary education to these crème de la crème, many of them end up caged in jobs that do not fully make use of their potential. In business terms, this is a poor return on investment."