The Fourth Asian Management Awards, Kuala Lumpur, 15 September 1994
I would like to congratulate the winners of tonight's awards and especially to the Asian Institute of Management for creating the awards which is now in its fourth year. AIM, as we all know, has been instrumental in nurturing a generation of managers and entrepreneurs for our region. Long before our country was invaded by an army of MBA holders from the United States, AIM was providing the much-needed training in managerial responsibilities. I can say that Malaysia, both our private and public sectors, is one country that has taken the maximum advantage of the institute's management programmes.
To my mind, the crucial role of AIM and many other like-minded institutions in the region is to address the issue of human resource development. As this region progresses further economically and as the number of industries and enterprises multiplies rapidly, the supply of manpower -- both in terms of number and quality -- will emerge as a major limiting factor. Based on current trends it will not belong before other South East Asian countries catch up with Malaysia and face the same kind of labour shortages that we are facing now.
The ultimate resources and capital of any country is its own people. The level of its economic development is to a large extent dependent on the quality of its population, in terms of the education and training that would enable them improve the efficiency and raise the productivity in performing their respective economic functions. We are certainly far from discounting the advantages of natural resources but some developing countries worse inflicted with poverty, famine and starvation are also very richly endowed with natural resources. Yet some barren countries thrive, prosper and live in plenty because of the quality of their population. Invariably, investment in human capital must be at the core of any effort to improve the quality of life of the people and to achieve sustainable economic development.
So crucial is the issue of human capital and human resource development that it demands us to take a serious and comprehensive re-examination of our entire human resource development planning. This would involve some adjustment and re-prioritization in some aspects of secondary and tertiary education. This is because some of the details in our existing education and training is based on the thinking and projections made two decades ago. Many of the assumptions then were reflections of the political and economic concerns at that particular time. However, the success of the policy of rapid economic development and the expansion of opportunities has diminished the relevance of ethnicity in human resource development. When we have the situation of employers chasing the employees, the employers are in no position to exercise their non-economic preferences, be it based on ethnicity, gender or culture.
Although the existing education system has provided access to quality primary and secondary education to all, training facilities for industrial skills are limited and opportunities for tertiary education are very competitive. The fact that we are facing a mismatch between the demand and supply of manpower points to the direction of the new emphasis in the re- prioritization in our education and training.
The strong perfomance in the economy over the last six years cannot be sustained unless we are able to overcome our manpower constraints. The manufacturing sector will account for 36 per cent of new jobs in the current 10-year perspective plan. Among all the sectors, the manufacturing sector is and will be having the largest manpower requirement. The demand will be highest for engineers, engineering assistants and technicians. However, the existing level of output of the local education and training institutions can only supply 58 per cent of the total requirement for engineers, 45 per cent of engineering assistants and 58 per cent of the total requirement for skilled workers. This low supply level contributes towards existing shortages and places even greater pressures on the present tight labour market. It is imperative that our education system, at all levels, address this pressing practical issue.
However, I must also stress the fact that the current process of adjustment and re-prioritization is in no way inimical to our overall national philosophy of education or intended to replace it with a new one, more utilitarian in nature. Far from it. There will be no compromise on the function ofeducation as a process of instilling the correct positive values among the younger generation and as a vehicle for national integration. But the utilitarian dimension of education is indeed very real. It is in this aspect that we have to be responsive to new demands and changes in the marketplace. We will do a great wrong to the coming generations if we fail to provide them with the skills they need to successfully compete in the job market.
At the same time, our human resource development strategy must go beyond the ordinary and limited conception of providing the opportunity and means to acquire specific industrial skills and technologies. We need also to acquire the values and ethics necessary to manage and operate a highly industrialized economy. Industrialization has its psychological and cultural dimensions, understanding of which is vital to maintaining a successful industrial society. The acquisition of these new values appropriate to industrial culture does not necessarily mean that we abandon the positive aspects of our traditions. Rather, there must be a revitalization of traditional values as a countervailing force against the many negative and alienating aspects of industrialization.
Finally, as the pace of economic development accelerates throughout Southeast Asia, the peoples and cultures of this region will have even greater opportunity and more occasions to interact with one another. In the past, our respective visions have been largely trained towards other cultures outside the region, to the extent that we are less familiar with our neighbours than with our former colonial masters. Not only will South East Asians be trading more with each other, greater numbers will be working for fellow Southeast Asians or managing enterprises in other Southeast Asian countries. These situations will certainly pose a real challenge to managers and trainers in the future, and I am certain the AIM itself will be poised to take up the challenge.