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MRANTI: Time to address brain drain and tech talent gap

December 1, 2023
The Edge
5 mins read

KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 1): Malaysia's tech innovation and talent potential is immense, but the country’s brain drain dilemma continues to see expertise fleeing to neighbouring countries. Malaysia has lost almost 500,000 strongly trained skilled talent aged above 25 years in the last 10 years, but imported seven million low-skilled workers into the country, said Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation’s (MRANTI) chief executive officer Datuk Wira Dr Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff.

This has created a huge mismatch between what the nation needs to achieve and what it wants to achieve, he said, and stakeholders need to take a deep dive into the issue, identify the real challenges and address it openly and transparently, so that the country improves its retention rate and realises its tech potential.

Speaking at MRANTI’s I-Nation 2023 Be the Force for Good Summit on Nov 20, Rais Hussin said the focus has been more on input and output, rather than on the outcome and impact technology has on the ground as well as the government’s initiatives and roadmaps.

“There are so many blueprints but when they are not acted upon, that is the problem. We need to ask, is our ecosystem capable enough? Is our ecosystem not complementing or supportive enough? Or is it because [it relies on] who we know rather than know-how, that is another problem,” he said during a panel discussion at the summit, titled “ImpactCorridor: Navigating Disruptive Innovation: Strategies for Sustainable Growth through the Potentials of Economic Corridors and Regional Development in Malaysia”.

“We need to be brave to identify the problems, raise these real issues and speak about them openly and transparently, and then take steps to credibly solve the problem.”

There are many challenges on the technological innovation front and MRANTI is working on identifying and credibly addressing them, including the issue of brain drain, said Rais Hussin, who is new to the agency and has only served for 43 days to date (Nov 21).

People and industries need to be mindful and understand what they are talking about when it comes to technology and sustainability. This, coupled with the adequate regulatory and policy framework and time, talent challenges such as brain drain and job displacement, can be addressed.

“The banking sector in Europe and America will see more than 70% of jobs being taken up by IT professionals. That's very strange but if you look at a McKinsey Report, the first job that is going to be obsolete is accountancy because AI is going to replace them.

“We need a regulatory and policy framework. We will be actively engaging and trying to persuade our government to do the right thing for the people.”

Rais Hussin said MRANTI is committed to playing a role in guiding the future of talents and will be looking into the edutech space as well. He added that currently, there are more than two universities in the MRANTI Park which are very specialised in automotive engineering and AI robotics. He added that following the setting up of the MRANTI Park in Bukit Jalil, they were given land in Pahang and Sabah to replicate the park’s model there.

MRANTI ventures into agritech

Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) chief executive Mohamad Haris Kader Sultan said Malaysia’s importation of foods from other countries is set to increase and Malaysia’s agriculture sector is facing a two-pronged issue: lack of high technology solutions and talent.

Touching on the talent issue, Mohamad Haris said the agritech industry is not enticing to the younger generation in Malaysia, and the only way to get them into the space is to tag on job perks and a good income to the job.

“If the money that they get is not substantial as compared to working elsewhere, people might not go into that field at all. So for NCIA, we have deployed an asset management model on a small piece of land in Pendang, Kedah.

“Initially, the yield was 1.8 metric tons but now it has increased to four metric tons and I think after this point, [this method] has to be taken up by the ministry to be deployed throughout the nation.”

Currently, up to 40% of Malaysia's rice output actually is wasted due to gaps within the processing arena before it gets onto the shelves in the supermarket and small store supplies. By incorporating technology into the farming process, not only will yield increase but young talent will be more inclined to consider a career in agritech, said Mohamad Haris.

Although there are other government agencies stepping into the agritech space, Rais Hussin said MRANTI too will be venturing there, especially since the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) introduced the Food Security Sandbox, a collaboration between the National Technology and Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) and NCIA, to address food security challenges facing the country.

He shared that when he was the chairman of Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), he introduced a simple fertigation system to a crop field, which saw yield go up by 33% and the farmer earning an additional 22% in income. The goal here, he said, was to bridge the digital divide, which inadvertently addressed income inequality and food security.

He also pointed out that those who have not gone down to the ground did not know the real needs of these farmers and were not sensitive to their plights. “It's about ground reality. People do not understand the ground reality. We need to look at the point of people first, and then work backwards [to fill the gaps],” he said.

“5G is not the solution to everything and it is not for everyone. We have crossed the 70% coverage of populated areas (CoPA) but 5G adoption is between 2% and 4%. 5G, technically speaking, is not for everyone.”