Malaysia’s National TVET Policy 2030: A New Route-Map To A Nimble Workforce  

By:  Dr. Syed Alwee Alsagof

Malaysia is charting a course towards a future powered by a skilled and adaptable workforce with  the launch of its National Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Policy 2030  last week. This ambitious plan recognises TVET’s critical role in bridging the skills gap and  equipping Malaysians with the tools they need to compete in the dynamic global world.  

The policy unveils a five-point plan to revitalise vocational training. It prioritises aligning programs  with Industry 4.0 technologies, fostering industry partnerships to equip graduates with relevant  skills, securing funding for institutions, promoting the value of TVET careers and implementing a  unified system for quality control.  

Beyond Grease and Gears: Redefining TVET’s Role  

The new National TVET Policy 2030 stamps out outdated stereotypes of vocational training being  solely for plumbers, electricians and car mechanics – an archaic view that obscured the sector’s true  spectrum. Modern TVET now offers a dynamic range of qualifications, encompassing both  established trades and cutting-edge fields like robotics and media production. Course options cater  to diverse needs, offering one-year diplomas alongside in-depth professional certifications spanning  3 or 4 years.  

Particularly exciting are “emerging TVET fields.” These programs are strategically designed to  bridge the talent gap in booming industries like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. With a  strong emphasis on practical skills, TVET equips graduates to excel in the jobs of tomorrow.  

In Malaysia, this focus on emerging TVET fields aligns seamlessly with the government’s economic  vision. The Malaysian Investment Development Authority’s (MIDA) data reflects a strong push  towards advanced manufacturing, as outlined in the New Industrial Master Plan 2030 (NIMP). This  plan prioritises economic progress, environmental sustainability, and achieving net-zero emissions.  The services sector also prioritises cutting-edge areas like digital services and green technology.  These sectors are witnessing a surge in investment, with a 7.2% increase from 2022, reaching a total  of RM168 billion.  

Looming Skills Gap Threatens Malaysia’s Economic Engine  

Statistics are showing TVET graduates are finding jobs at a record pace. The Ministry of Higher  Education (MOHE) reports employability rates for TVET graduates soared from 65.5% in 2010 to 

94.0% in 2023, surpassing the rate for non-TVET graduates since 2012. 16.3% of TVET graduates  became entrepreneurs in 2023.  

While this is a positive sign, experts warn that this trend may not be enough to address a concerning  skills mismatch in the Malaysian workforce.  

A separate report by the Department of Statistics paints a contrasting picture. The data reveals a  significant disconnect between the aspirations of school leavers and the demands of the job market.  Over 70% of graduates reportedly aim for white-collar positions. However, the current market  offers a substantial number of semi-skilled roles (around 60%). This discrepancy threatens to limit  the growth potential of the high-performing manufacturing sector.  

Electrical and electronics, a critical area within manufacturing, faces a particularly acute skills gap.  Vacancy rates in this field exceeded 5% in the first quarter of 2024. Unless young Malaysians  embrace modern TVET programs and bridge this gap, analysts fear the full potential of TVET to  bolster the nation’s workforce may remain unrealised.  

The disconnect between job aspirations and market realities raises questions about whether we are  fully capitalising on the strengths of TVET. While securing employment after TVET is on the rise,  job security is not guaranteed. Today’s TVET programs may not always equip students with the  specific industry experience and languages demanded by tomorrow’s employers.  

Furthermore, cultural stigmas attached to manual labour, a growing trend of overqualified gig  workers, and the limited availability of business financing for graduates all add layers of complexity  to the equation. An increasing number of graduates are even looking for higher-paying blue-collar  jobs overseas. The influence of social media on work ethic among young people is another factor  that warrants further examination.  

FDI Can Revamp Malaysia’s TVET Landscape  

Malaysia’s manufacturing sector received a significant boost in 2023, attracting RM152 billion  (US$35.6 billion) in foreign direct investment (FDI) – a staggering 80.2% increase from the  previous year. This surge, accounting for nearly half (46.1%) of all approved FDI by year-end,  highlights a potential link: a robust Technical and Vocational Education and Training system acting  as a magnet for foreign investors.  

The allure for multinational corporations (MNCs) is clear: a readily available pool of skilled  workers. Unlike traditional universities with their less flexible curriculums, TVET programs offer a  crucial advantage – nimbleness. They can adapt quickly to meet the ever-evolving needs of  industries, ensuring graduates possess the most up-to-date skillsets.  

Nimbleness is a two-way street.  

Experts believe FDI can address a critical challenge for Malaysia’s TVET institutions: outdated  training equipment and a shortage of highly qualified instructors. Germany’s model provides a  blueprint – incentivise MNCs to share cutting-edge technology with TVET institutions, equipping  graduates with the modern skills demanded by industry. Partnerships mirroring Australia’s  approach, where foreign investors collaborate on funding, knowledge transfer, equipment  donations, and curriculum development, offer another promising avenue. 

This shift towards a more robust TVET system is crucial. Rising immigration restrictions and  widening pay gaps render the current reliance on foreign labour unsustainable. This push coincides  with the National Action Plan on Forced Labour (NAPFL), a joint effort with the International  Labour Organisation (ILO) to eradicate forced labour by 2030.  

The question remains: can Malaysia’s TVET system overcome past sluggishness and adapt to the  demands of a rapidly changing world? The recently launched National TVET Policy 2030 offers a  glimmer of hope. Experts believe swift implementation, coupled with increased agility within  TVET institutions, can transform them into powerhouses by equipping Malaysians with the skills  sought after in the new global market landscape.  

The Workforce of Tomorrow: Adaptable, Agile, and Entrepreneurial  

TVET National Policy is a siren call to a future of work – and it demands a new kind of graduate.  The rapid pace of technology demands graduates with adaptable skillsets. Global TVET institutions  are embracing this challenge. South Korea’s robust apprenticeship programs, for example, combine  traditional trades with AI and electric vehicle training. Estonia focuses on early-stage digital  literacy, fostering innovation and problem-solving.  

To prepare graduates for diverse career paths, TVET programs are incorporating modules on  entrepreneurship, empowering graduates to consider self-employment. This focus on agility extends  beyond conventional TVET curriculums. The Malaysian Qualifications Framework (MQF) and  Code of Practice for TVET Programme Accreditation (COPTPA) allows graduates to seamlessly  progress towards higher qualifications, importantly fostering a culture of lifelong learning.  Elsewhere, Germany is piloting “dual exposure” programs that combine academic and vocational  paths in parallel. These programs equip graduates with a coveted mix of theoretical knowledge and  hands-on expertise, preparing them for the dynamic job market of tomorrow.  

Will Malaysia Embrace Local TVET Talent? Collaboration is Key  

Malaysia’s newly launched National TVET Policy 2030 has set a bold goal: transforming the  nation’s workforce with skilled TVET graduates. However, a crucial question looms: can this policy  bridge the gap between a fragmented network of vocational schools, polytechnics, and universities,  and unify them under a collaborative vision? Skeptics point to the challenge of achieving this level  of cooperation between government, businesses, educators, and institutions – a key factor for the  policy’s success.  

The policy also faces concerns regarding its focus on increasing the number of TVET graduates.  While some see a large pool of qualified workers as a benefit, small and medium enterprises (SME)  express apprehension. They worry that these graduates might command higher salaries, potentially  becoming future competitors. This hesitation could have unintended consequences, as skilled  Malaysians may choose to seek employment overseas where their qualifications are valued.  

The Human Resources Ministry paints a concerning picture: 1.8 million Malaysians now work  abroad, with over a million in Singapore alone. Experts warn of a “brain drain” reaching alarming  levels – at 5.5% today, it’s nearly double the global average. This exodus of talent threatens to  cripple the economy if left unchecked. The success of the National TVET Policy hinges not only on  producing skilled workers, but also on fostering a local environment that values and attracts them. 

Future-Proofing: Beyond Immediate Challenges of the National TVET Policy 2030  

Ultimately, a well-trained domestic TVET workforce isn’t just a pipe dream, it’s a recipe for  economic success. A skilled domestic TVET workforce is a key ingredient for economic growth,  and its benefits extend past immediate gains, promoting self-sufficiency, innovation, and a more  equitable job market that recognises both academic and vocational paths.  

Businesses can ditch the struggle of finding skilled foreign workers, tapping into a reliable pool of  talent right here at home. This translates to a more productive and competitive national economy: a  win-win for everyone.  

But dreams don’t build themselves. The key to unlocking this potential lies in collaboration. All  stakeholders, from policymakers to educators and businesses, need to work together. Only then can  the TVET Policy 2030 become the route-map to a future-proofed workforce, empowering both  businesses and the nation to thrive.  

The author is a Fellow, Majlis Profesor Negara  

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