October 29, 2013
Concern over the welfare of young Malaysians have been raised after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib made the Budget 2014 announcement last Friday. Groups pointed out that next year’s budget lacked opportunities to resolve socio-economic problems being faced by the youth, the most glaring of which include lack of better employment opportunities and debt. The abolition of sugar subsidies, as well as the proposed implementation of a 6% goods and services tax (GST) are only bound to make matters worse for the young labour force.
Unemployment is not so much a problem for most young Malaysians as is underemployment, which refers to “a mismatch between career aspiration, skills, and expectations of a person to his or her actual job,” according to the International Labour Organisation. As a result, Malaysia is one of those developing countries with a massive case of “brain drain,” which refers to the loss of talent when bright, young workers decide to seek better job opportunities abroad. One in 10 Malaysians with tertiary education migrates to OECD countries to search for a better job.
Steven Sim Chee Keong, MP for Bukit Mertajam, raises the problem of service debts among young Malaysians. According to him, 82.5% of workers below age 30 earns monthly income of less than RM3,000. They are faced with certain socio-economic pressures including having to repay education loans, on top of a rampant culture of consumerism and lenient credit regulations that of course lead to serious indebtedness.
Keong holds the belief that young Malaysians will not be better off in a decade if no “substantial reforms” are made.
On the bright side, there is some promising level of support from the Malaysian government for the local tech startup ecosystem and young entrepreneurs. Details are yet to be provided but it was announced that the government will allocate RM50 million for the establishment of the Malaysian Global and Creativity Center (MaGIC), which was first announced by Najib during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit last October 11.
MaGIC will be intended to house an integrated database, as well as incubators, for young entrepreneurs. It will also be assisting them in terms of funding, business matching, filing for patents, and business facilities. Malaysia has previously announced plans to turn the country into an “entrepreneurial nation” and MaGIC is expected to play a key role by providing guidance and training up to 5,000 entrepreneurs every year – all under one roof.
Other highlights of Budget 2014 is the announcement of “cooling off” measures to decrease housing loan debt. In the first eight months of 2013, home loan growth had already stood at 8.4% and is projected to reach up to 13% by the end of the year. At the same time, major public investments reaching up to RM106 billion would be set aside for the development of the West Coast Expressway, a double-tracking rail project along the west coast of Malaysia, the various projects under Petronas’ RM300 billion capex program.
The government will also invest RM1.8 billion for the provision of internet facilities to benefit up to 2.8 million households in the country. In Sabah and Sarawak, new underwater cables will be constructed in the next three years to increase internet access to rural areas.
Government support for tech entrepreneurial ventures, coupled with improved internet facilities on a nationwide scale, should provide exciting opportunities for young Malaysians. Entrepreneurial success would also require bright minds and ambition – two things the Malaysian youth definitely do not lack. The tech startup scene in Asia is definitely heating up and we just might see more tech startups from Malaysia making it big in the next few years – if the government delivers its promise and the youth find ways to take advantage of new opportunities.