CEO FORUM 2022: Between Brain Drain and Labour Shortage

PLF CEO FORUM 2022 Concurrent Session B:


  • Mr Farul Azim Mohd Ghazali, Director, Technology Solutioning, AwanBiru Technology Berhad
  • Hajah Mahuran Saro Dato’ Haji Sariki, Vice-President, Group Research, Development & Policy and Malaysian Professional Talent, TalentCorp Malaysia
  • Mr Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, Chief Human Resource Officer, Sime Darby Plantation
  • Mr Mahmood Razak Bahman, Head, Group Strategic Communications, DRB-HICOM Berhad

MODERATOR: Mr Chiam Hsing Ren, Chief Growth Officer, SEEK Asia

Is Malaysia on the losing end of the battle for brains and brawn? It’s estimated that there are 2 million Malaysians who have emigrated abroad with the annual number said to be increasing in recent years. A quarter of Malaysian emigres are skilled professionals, including doctors, engineers and scientists. Meanwhile, the race to accelerate the country’s economic growth requires highly-skilled human resources, and industries lament that there is not enough talent to go around.

Session B, “Between Brain Drain and Labour Shortage”, started with the moderator, Mr Chiam Hsing Ren’s provocative question: “Do you think Malaysia has a brain drain problem?”.

Talent Corp’s Hajah Mahuran Saro Hajah Mahuran Saro responded that this was not a new issue as Malaysians have gone abroad for work for many decades. She proposed that the term “brain drain” be changed to brain gain or brain circulation, as work abroad is brain gain to Malaysian talent and can prove to be a boon to the country in the end. Nevertheless, TalentCorp is continuously working to monitor the work environment in Malaysia and abroad to ensure ideal job and work environments for Malaysian talents. TalentCorp also runs various programmes to encourage high-level talents to return, such as the My Heart Programme.

Her sentiments were echoed by Sime Darby’s Mr Zukifli Zainal Abidin and AwanBiru’s Mr Farul Azim who argued that Malaysians who work abroad experience a “brain gain” due to the international work experience. DRB HICOM’s Mr Mahmood Razak pointed out that starting salaries and career prospects are part of the enticements of working abroad, a point which Mr Farul illustrated with his experience as a returning expatriate from the US.

The panellists discussed the changing work expectations, especially among millennial employees who look for work-life balance and hybrid work policies. The discussion also touched on how talent can prepare for the new global market place and all panellists agreed that good communication skills were essential for marketability both inside and outside of Malaysia.

“Other than salary and skills, we have to look into work-life balance. This is the global scenario where work-life balance is vital for the younger or millenium generation. TalentCorp has a programme related to work-life balance to make the workplace more conducive.”
Puan Hajah Mahuran Saro Dato’ Haji Sariki

“Brain drain is a direct impact of globalisation. As a country, we also want to export our talents to work outside (Malaysia) and the fact that they get jobs abroad is not necessarily a bad thing. We can’t avoid brain drain as most countries in the world face the same phenomena. At our company, we have benefited from foreign talents who have joined our firm, especially to work on our new electric vehicle project.”
Mr Mahmood Razak Bahman

“With everyone now opening up to remote work and learning to use tools such as Google Meet or Zoom, there are more opportunities. Covid-19 forced people to use tech much more than before; most people, including my 75-year old mother, now know how to use QR codes and the like. We have been forced to turn to tech and to digitise, and the speed of digitalisation is amped up.”
Mr Farul Azim Mohd Ghazali

“We see larger numbers of people leaving organisations not because of salary but because the organisations are unable to provide any development (path) for them. We employ the best talents in digital and in the current scenario, individuals with unique skills are demanding skills development programmes. Today, salary is still an important consideration, but so are skills and knowledge growth.”
Mr Zulkifli Zainal Abidin