In his Budget 2020 speech last month (14 October 2019), Malaysia's Minister of Finance Lim Guan Eng announced that the government will be setting aside about RM6.5bn to the newly-launched Malaysia@Work (#MalaysiaKerja) initiative.

Under this initiative, Minister Lim also said the government anticipated that over the next five years, about 350,000 additional jobs will be created for Malaysians, thus reducing the dependence on foreign workers by more than 130,000.

In line with that, speaking at the International Social Well-Being Conference 2019 yesterday, where Malaysia@Work was officially launched, Prime Minister Yab Tun Dr Mahathir Bin Mohamad reiterated that the importance of having such a programme.

He said: "Everyone has a part to play in overcoming the challenges caused by unemployment as it will fester and affect all levels of society if left unchecked. And it will take a Malaysian solution, and a Malaysian team, to solve this Malaysian problem."

"Hashtag MalaysiaKerja, or Malaysia At Work, is the Malaysian answer to resolving employment challenges in the marketplace."

Through this hiring incentive for employers, he added, there is the desire to "connect ready, willing and able talent to jobs with dignity as we prepare our workforce for the future."

The programme will target the following segments of the labour force, as shared by Dr Mahathir:

Locals@Work to reduce reliance on foreign workers

This pillar was put in place to let the country's 3D workers "know that they work in dignified, dynamic, and desirable jobs", Dr Mahathir stated.

"As Malaysia aspires towards developed nation status, we must look towards the best models of countries who have made it. I truly admire the citizens of countries like Japan and Korea who have so much pride in the everyday work that they do.

"No job is too lowly and so they have very little dependence on foreign labour."

This pillar will be focused on by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Human Resources.

As mentioned in the Budget 2020 speech, Locals@Work is a hiring cost equalisation programme, aimed at incentivising the shift away from low-skilled foreign workers dependency. The wage incentive for Malaysians who are hired to replace foreign workers is at either RM350 or RM500 per month, depending on the sectors, for a duration of two years, and corresponding hiring incentive for employers up to RM250 per month for two years.

Graduates@Work and Apprentice@Work for the youths

This pillar was introduced to cater to the youths, who will be the future of the country.

Further, with IR4.0 having opened up opportunities in the technical and vocational sectors, this pillar aims to encourage youths in the country to become skilled in TVET fields, through an Apprentice@Work initiative.

Both Graduates@Work and Apprentice@Work will be owned by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth and Sport.

According to the Budget 2020 speech, Graduates@Work is designed specifically for the hiring of graduates who have been unemployed for more than 12 months. The graduates who secures work will receive a wage incentive of RM500 per month, for a duration of two years, while employers receive a hiring incentive up to RM300 per month for each new hire, for two years.

Whereas, Apprentice@Work is a Technical & Vocational Education & Training (TVET) incentive programme, aimed at encouraging more youth to enter TVET courses, in the form of additional RM100 per month on existing allowance for trainees on apprenticeships. The Government will also extend double tax deduction on expenses incurred by companies participating in Skim Latihan Dual Nasional (SLDN) for another two years.

In addition, the double tax deduction currently given to companies undertaking Structured Internship Programme (SIP) approved by Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp) will be expanded to include students from all academic fields rather than just engineering and technology.

Women@Work for returning women workers

On this pillar, Dr Mahathir shared: "We have Women@Work, because women hold up half the sky – and this is certainly the case in Malaysia. In every juncture of our history, women, who are primary caretakers of the family unit, have played an integral role in raising future Malaysians with strong values. More so in times of economic change."

This pillar will be owned by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

As mentioned in the Budget 2020 speech Women@Work seeks to create 33,000 job opportunities per year for women who have stopped working for a year or more, and are between 30-50 years-old.

The wage incentive for returning women workers is RM500 per month for two years, and a corresponding hiring incentive for employers up to RM300 per month for two years. On top of that, the current income tax exemption for women who return to work after a career break be extended for another four years until 2023.

The drive behind Malaysia@Work

In his speech, Dr Mahathir talked about the changes brought about by an evolving economy and technological disruption, and Malaysia's journey towards a "developed nation" status.

For instance, in the employment landscape, he shared "never before have we seen so many generations being joint participants in the same workforce."

Apart from that, with the Internet strengthening connectivity, employers today are "spoilt for choice" by the easy access to global talent and automation.

He added: "However, in this time of change, employers and employees face the almost impossible challenge of rapid adaptation to keep up with the human and digital demands of the new marketplace."

With many jobs being displaced by new ways of doing things, the one segment of the population that is most impacted are fresh graduates. "To thrive in this future one must be creative, adaptable, agile and prepared to expect the unexpected. Not many young Malaysians are equipped for this, and as such, many do not get hired or worst, unable to pick themselves up."

More importantly, he stressed that when a large proportion of Malaysia's youth are unemployed, the country loses their potential contribution, while at the same time, all investments in their education go to waste.

"We cannot let that happen. All we need to do is to look towards places like Hong Kong, Beirut and Santiago to see how economically frustrated youths can bring about conflicts and unrest, worsening the already precarious and unstable economic conditions."

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