MAE president calls for government action on engineer salaries

06 May 2024 08:27pm
Malaysian Association of Engineers (MAE) president Datuk Ir Ts Feroz Hanif Mohamed Ahmad.
Malaysian Association of Engineers (MAE) president Datuk Ir Ts Feroz Hanif Mohamed Ahmad.

SHAH ALAM - Malaysia's engineering sector is facing a critical shortage of qualified professionals, according to the Malaysian Association of Engineers (MAE).

Its president Datuk Ir Ts Feroz Hanif Mohamed Ahmad said several factors contributed to the problem, including the low salary of engineers as well as the lack of attraction of the profession among the new generation through lack of pursuit of mathematics and science education.

"According to (Prime Minister) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, we are currently lacking 30,000 engineers and although this does not align with the fact that we have an abundance of engineering diploma graduates, it simply means that we do not have the desired number of engineers, especially considering that diploma holders don't typically hold the same positions as degree holders.

"The latter usually contribute more significantly to the issue of shortage of engineers today," he said.

He also highlighted the need for policymakers to bring this issue into serious discussion for matters to turn into action and for things to improve.

"We need to look at neighboring countries such as Singapore, where engineers earn a SGD3,000 pay. Our local engineers are gradually migrating there to benefit from the higher pay.

"If possible, we need a report for our concerns that is currently being done by the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) during our Action Plan Workshop last March to be brought to the attention of the highest policymakers namely the Cabinet and the Parliament," he said during a press conference, here.

He further provided an example of extending practical training to six months, beyond the typical industrial training duration.

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This extended period, he said aimed to enhance engineers' proficiency, akin to the concept of housemanship for medical doctors prior to their official certification.

He said implementing a similar approach for aspiring engineers could bolster their confidence in pursuing the profession.

"The lack of motivation among students to continue pursuing engineering and even halting their progress to engage in business or migrate to other countries to pursue their profession is primarily attributable to the profession's lack of prominence and insufficient exposure during their studies.

"Introducing a dedicated practical period could potentially address this gap," he said.

He said as long as diploma holders were still perceived as less valuable than degree holders in the workplace, the problem of low salaries would persist.

Feroz said there were engineers earning a monthly salary of RM1,800 although they were often assigned tasks beyond their job scope and suggested that salaries should be increased to RM3,500–RM4,000 instead.

"There should be a holistic approach which required the collaboration of all parties, including the private and governmental sectors, education institutions, to fix the issues for our aspiring and registered engineers to uplift their livelihoods," he said.

"Ecosystem is important and that can only be fixed and balanced when the salary of engineers is revised to be at par with the current Malaysian economics, which can be considered by BEM.

"We also notice that the government has become a bit stable, and we appreciate that these issues were mentioned beforehand by the Prime Minister during the Madani Open House 2024 and even by former education minister Professor Dr Maszlee Malik on his Facebook two days ago.

"We heavily address the possibility of brain drain among engineers if this (low salary) continues, which can be detrimental to the country in the long run," Feroz said.

Other than the stated possible solutions, he also proposed that the distinction between Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and degree graduates be made and shown through the change of the hiring system, where they both hold different knowledge levels, skills and roles, as well as specified responsibilities.

"There needs to be a clear distinction between TVET, diploma and degree holders in their respective responsibilities and specific skills so that when unwanted incidents occur, such as buildings collapsing, we know who to hold accountable, which are the engineers who hold lifelong responsibility as long as their facilities are present, or the liability for the government will be bigger when the assignment of responsibility is absent or wrong," he said.

He added that the landscape of the profession should also be improved in such a way that the new generation should be attracted to the profession through the promotion of a fixed salary that was realistic for the economy today.

"There should also be drastic improvements in enforcement and monitoring among bodies that regulate engineers so as to improve the overall quality of engineers.

"There should also be re-alignment of consulting fee scales with the rising current market.

"Establishing a professional commission under the purview of the Prime Minister's Department could further improve the livelihoods of our local engineers," he said.

Feros reiterated the fact that there was too much bureaucracy involved for engineers to apply for their professions.

Hence, he said the MAE needed a specific department that can monitor the right procedure for graduates to pursue after finishing studying.

"We have people from Mosti (Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry), KKR (Works Ministry) and KPKT (Housing and Local Government Ministry) focusing on the issues for engineers.

"But this, I think would create confusion for engineers seeking guidance. There should be a specific body that should be able to help them, which should be the highest authority.

"The engineering board wants to be on par (with other professions); we don't want to be underestimated so that people will respect us," he added.

He also discussed the need for a better system for engineers to file complaints, suggesting that the current hotline was insufficient to address all their concerns, leaving some unattended.

He said they are on the losing side if engineers continued to halt their careers and proceed with other career pathways instead, such as careers in social media or business, where both were common cases seen today.

(from left) Dr Muhammad Faiz Na'aman, Datuk Ir Ts Feroz Hanif Mohamed Ahmad, Ir Dr Ridza Azri Ramlee and Ir GS TS haji Mohd Rizman Sultan Mohammad during a press conference in Shah Alam.
(from left) Dr Muhammad Faiz Na'aman, Datuk Ir Ts Feroz Hanif Mohamed Ahmad, Ir Dr Ridza Azri Ramlee and Ir GS TS haji Mohd Rizman Sultan Mohammad during a press conference in Shah Alam.

Also present during the press conference were Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Supreme Council member Dr Muhammad Faiz Na'aman, MAE vice-president and Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM) senior lecturer Ir Dr Ridza Azri Ramlee as well as MAE assistant secretary Ir Mohd Rizman Sultan Mohammad, who is currently working at Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) as an engineer.

Faiz said commended the government for bringing this issue which has existed for more than a decade into recent discussion.

"I noticed that Anwar has tried to relate engineering to TVET lately, which means that he is already focusing on the issue.

"Maszlee's statement also supports that, which gives me confidence that actions wanted to be taken by MAE are only waiting to be rectified by the government," Faiz said.

Meanwhile, Ridza said he realised that not that many Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) leavers were opting for the engineering field nowadays, which should be the focal point in paving a brighter future for the current engineers.

"We need drastic improvement where people don't opt just for diploma qualification where they will keep being presented with a low salary," he added.

Ridza also brought to attention how there needed to be a distinction between technologists and engineers.

Students, he said usually thought that taking information technology courses can qualify them to become engineers, but that was not the case where being an engineer required a separate qualification.

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