Germany-based supplier of optical coatings and components, Optics Balzers, has set up a new production facility in Penang, operational in September, and officially opened on 18 November 2016, staffed by close to 30 employees.

Alex Vogt, CEO of Optics Balzers, Vogt, said the prompt start of production was possible because a team of about 10 staff members was sent from Germany to Malaysia to support the start-up phase. However, a significant share of the staff was recruited in Malaysia.

He stressed that the next few months are mostly aimed at handing over the responsibilities of the production process to the local staff while ensuring consistent quality. The specialist staff will then be able to return to their respective sites in Europe, where they will once again be in charge of further new developments and challenging customer projects.

The launch on 18 November included a speech by the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, and guided tours of the production facilities and present products in the showroom. The festivities were concluded by a reception and the traditional dragon dance.

On the occasion, Human Resources spoke to Sarah Lim, who manages personnel and administration, at Optics Balzers Malaysia, on hiring and retraining plans for the facility.

Q. How significant is the development of this plant to Optics Balzers' aspirations in Asia?

We expect growth of 15-25% over the next three years (at production site Malaysia) and we expect that, in three years, Optics Balzers Malaysia will make about 25-30% of the total sales.

Q. Optics Balzers sent down a team of 10 from the Germany plant to help set up the Penang plant. How will this team transfer knowledge to the local staff?

These experts from Balzers have a deep understanding on the process of manufacturing thin film optical components. Their presence to start up and transfer the process to Malaysia will accelerate the learning speed of the local engineers through knowledge sharing and on the job training.

Alex Vogt, CEO of Optics Balzers, with Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng. Alex Vogt, CEO of Optics Balzers, with Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng.

Q. Do you have further hiring plans, and what are  - and if so, what roles and skill sets?

We will increase headcount to more than 200 by Q3 next year. They will be mainly production staff, engineers and technicians. We have used online portals such as JobStreet as well as recruitment agencies.

Q. The need for highly qualified employees is going to keep increasing, said Alex Vogt prior to the opening. What barriers have you faced in the recruitment process?

Engineers with experience in optics are difficult to source for in Malaysia. We are building up a talent pool in Penang by providing  customised training for our engineers at Optics Balzers Malaysia.

Optics Balzers team at the launch. Optics Balzers team at the launch.

Q. You have a significant plan to train talent locally - what results have you seen so far?

The results are encouraging so far, our engineers are overcoming a steep learning curve to take ownership of the process transfers in Malaysia. However, it takes at least five years to train up a competent optical coating engineer. Patience and perseverance is vital to ensuring that we succeed.

Q. Plants are usually dominated by male staff. What is your take on gender diversity?

We believe in gender diversity and we do not discriminate between genders. Currently our ratio is 23% of female staff, and this number may increase as we hire more.

Photos / Optics Balzers