Is There a Jobs Crisis in Malaysia?

Mr Reza Ghazali, Client Partner & the Head of ASEAN, Pederson & Partners


  • Mr Mohd Syukri Ahmad Sudari, Vice President, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF)
  • Dato’ Azlin Ahmad Shaharbi, President, Peniagawati
  • Mr Abd Qadir Hairi Abu Hassan, Chief Executive Officer, SOLVNEX Digital Sdn Bhd
  • Dato’ Sri Dr Mohd Uzir, Chief Statistician Malaysia, Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM)

The moderator for this session, Mr Reza Ghazali of Pederson & Partners, opened the session by stating that businesses have to pivot and adapt to digitalisation faster and more holistically in order to survive and continue to provide jobs. However, what are the current and emerging issues in employment in Malaysia? Are we heading in the right direction in terms of jobs creation and skills matching?

On the question of jobs, Mr Mohd Syukri Ahmad Sudari of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) pointed out that there is an over-supply of fresh graduates as companies are not hiring new employees due to market uncertainty, post-pandemic. The focus currently is on business recovery and as such, instead of expanding their workforce, employers are looking into improving work processes to increase the overall productivity of their current staff. On the skills side, Mr Syukri pointed out that language skills are among the most sought after, followed by analytical and critical-thinking skills.

Mr Abd Qadir Hairi of start-up SOLVNEX Digital Sdn Bhd argued that there had been a jobs crisis before the pandemic, especially among the youth. He added that the youth unemployment rate was already high and increased when the pandemic hit. With companies under severe pressure and downsizing their workforce, fresh graduates have to compete for jobs with retrenched workers with more experience. This is why many fresh grads are forced to take on low-wage freelancing work to make ends meet. High-paying gig or temporary jobs are few and far in between but his company hopes to change this by providing the platform for companies to outsource higher-value temporary jobs to graduates.

The issue of gender imbalance, pre- and post-Covid, was brought into the discussion when Dato’ Azlin Ahmad Shaharbi of Peniagawati pointed out that women’s participation in the workforce was still low, and not helped by the lockdown-induced retrenchments. This was a persisting issue, she said, and there needs to be more incentives and inducements by the public and private sectors to increase women’s participation and empowerment especially at SME and micro-enterprise levels. With women making up nearly 60% of university students, it would make more business sense to encourage and boost their participation in the economy, especially post-pandemic.

Malaysia’s Chief Statistician, Dato’ Sri Dr Mohd Uzir, added that a pre-existing issue was under-employment which the pandemic only worsened. He did note, however, that despite multiple challenges in ensuring business continuity, most Malaysian employers would opt for retrenchment only as a last resort.

The panel concluded that there are underlying issues in Malaysia’s job market, especially among Malaysian youth, which the pandemic worsened. The silver lining is that the recovery is under way and more jobs, including higher-wage and higher-value jobs, will be available in the coming year. However, more needs to be done at policy level to address structural issues in Malaysian employment.