What is the scope of Talent Corporation’s operations?

MERICAN: Talent Corporation was formed to address the talent needs of the Economic Transformation Programme created by the current Prime Minister. Talent Corporation approaches the issue from both a demand and supply perspective. With regards to demand, we engage with key employers driving the Economic Transformation Programme to learn about their talent needs in their respective sectors. We will then build interventions based on the various pools of talent, whether it's Malaysians in Malaysia, Malaysians that are working abroad, or even foreign talent. We’re working to facilitate these talent pools to meet the needs of industry.

Talent Corporation was founded in 2011, what KPIs have you set for the organization and how has success been measured to date?

MERICAN: We started off about one year ago on January 1st, 2011 and we focused initially on looking at attracting Malaysians who’d gone abroad. We also focused on facilitating foreign talent. Our goal was to retain talent in the country and our initial targets were strictly numbers based, this included attracting more Malaysians back to their home country and facilitating expatriates coming in. Going forward the challenge is to address talent availability and we're looking at how to formulate certain metrics to see how we can ensure that in each of our key sectors there is available talent.  We would like to ensure that, when it is time for companies in each of our priority sectors to hire as they try to move up the value chain and transform in-line with the transformation program, there is the available talent to continue growing. It is important to concentrate on both quantity and quality so that each of our sectors can continue to grow.

How is Talent Corporation dealing with brain drain?

MERICAN: On the issue of brain drain, there's a wonderful report by the World Bank from April 2011. There are 3 key points contained in the report I would like to focus on. The first one is that you have to accept that brain drain is not unique to Malaysia. It's something all middle-income nations face when you have talent and people have the incentive and means to migrate. The second point that was raised in the report is that Malaysia has not suffered the worst of the potential brain drain problem because new talent coming out of our education system has replaced many of the people that have left Malaysia. So, in that sense we've been able to maintain the stock of well-educated talent in the country. Coming to my final point, the country is not going to be complacent. We certainly have to recognize that some of our better talent, in terms of quality, is leaving the nation. This is why organizations like Talent Corporation are working closely with leading employers to combat the dilemma. Our strategy is to engage this top talent and raise awareness of some of the great opportunities that are becoming increasingly available in the country.

What is your organization focusing on to bring talent back to Malaysia?

MERICAN: Last year at Invest Malaysia 2011, the Prime Minister announced an incentive program called the Returning Expert Program, which Talent Corporation administers, to provide facilities for Malaysians who return. Part of this includes a transitional income tax as well as an incentive, which ensures that foreign spouses or children get on a fast track to becoming a permanent resident. In addition to that, we are actively working closely with leading employers to organize career fairs overseas to raise awareness of opportunities that we have available. I must emphasize as well, that the focus and priority is on optimizing Malaysian talent. That's why the Prime Minister announced that we are focused on young Malaysian talent coming out of universities and ensuring that we enhance their employability. We are also simultaneously focusing our attention on optimizing female talent, which I would describe as a latent talent pool. If we are to progress and become a developed nation, we have to ensure that the female talent pool is not ignored, but promoted.

What are some of the challenges that you've faced?

MERICAN: One current challenge is the urgency to fill many professional and senior positions, particularly engineering positions, positions in the oil and gas, electronics and finance sectors. These positions are difficult to fill because they are in high demand internationally. Another challenge is that productivity growth appears to have outstripped wage growth. That means that, from a talent perspective, we may be less competitive in competing for talent vis-à-vis neighboring countries or even countries further afield. On the flip-side, what we've seen is a positive response as far as Malaysians returning and thanks to the program that Talent Corporation administers, we are seeing the number of senior Malaysians coming back under this program doubling. This demonstrates the level of confidence in the Economic Transformation Programme, which is being undertaken by the government in collaboration with the private sector. We are moving in the right direction and there's greater confidence due to the progress that we've achieved to date.

What would you say Malaysia’s competitive advantages are compared to other countries in the region?

MERICAN: I think we each have our respective comparative advantages. I think Malaysia is very blessed. We have top global talent. The only problem with that is that the world knows it and everyone wants to compete for our talent. At the same time, we have world-class infrastructure and key, booming sectors of our economy, which is the premise of the Economic Transformation Programme. These key sectors will serve as the anchor to attract talent and retain that talent in Malaysia. These talented individuals can feel confident building their careers in these key sectors where we as a nation have demonstrated our strength and capability.

Which sectors of the economy offer the best opportunities within Malaysia?

MERICAN: To me, this is much like asking a parent who their favorite child is. In reality, there are 12 sectors that have been identified by the government as being the 12 focus areas for the country. At the same time we need to look at it as a portfolio, to pick one over another as being more important is a bit difficult. From a talent perspective, one can’t help but recognize that perhaps there are some sectors that will require a bit more nurturing, particularly oil and gas, healthcare, finance, and electronics, which are all areas where you need technical skill sets. You can't generate those sorts of skill sets overnight. Further, these are the same skill sets that are also in high demand globally. For example, oil and gas, with oil prices being very high, is an intense competitive environment to compete in for this talent. So, whilst we don't want to be seen as selecting one's favorite child, there are clearly some sectors that, due to the intensity of global competition for talent, merit more attention and effort to attract, nurture and retain talent.

What is your general outlook for the growth of the Malaysian economy?

MERICAN: With regards to the transformation of the economy, we're focusing on major sectors of the economy where we are internationally competitive and where we're growing fast. We increasingly have more regional champions coming out of Malaysia. For example, in the finance sector you have the likes of CIMB and Maybank, and in telecommunications, you have the likes of Axiata and Maxis. Companies such as these are creating opportunities for the top talent to build a career in Malaysia. In a broader context, Malaysia is where the action is because we're the heart of Asia and, as we know, the momentum and balance of economic growth is shifting towards Asia. Specifically, everyone is expecting to see enormous growth in China, India, and Indonesia, and Malaysia is tied culturally, historically, and business-wise to all three of these major nations. Malaysia is certainly where it's at.