Born and raised on a rubber estate, YB Yuan Kula Segaran has a background rooted in compassion, hard work, and resilience. He is committed to assisting the bottom 40 percent in Malaysia and does so with an acute understanding of their strife, having come from less than privileged circumstances himself. As a child he assisted his parents with rubber tapping, selling newspapers, and tending the livestock, all the while pursuing his studies, culminating in being one of the most acclaimed lawyers in Malaysia. His relentless dedication to representing low-skill workers in labour and industrial courts has also won him a famous victory through representing Indira Gandhi Mutho’s case, a mother whose three children were wrongfully converted into Islam by her estranged ex-husband. Now as the Minister of Human Resources, Tuan Kula Segaran speaks with the International Business Review on how his role in New Malaysia will craft human capital development to future proof human resource needs of the country.
According to Tuan Kula Segaran, the main priority — as stipulated in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto — is to equalise the minimum wage between Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states by gradually increasing both to RM 1,500. Additionally, the Ministry of Human Resources aims to improve case hearing and award amounts for workers in Industrial Court cases, employment priorities for locals, and increase workers’ awareness of their labour law rights. Such measures have the potential to positively affect Malaysians across the board, particularly low-income, low-skilled workers. “We see the importance of having a highly skilled manpower, equally robust policies on work environment, labour relationships and obviously the need to be very responsive to the dynamics of the labour market”, Tuan Kula Segaran shares.
There has also been much talk about Malaysia’s imminent transition towards Industry 4.0, preparation for which calls for reskilling and further training. Tuan Kula Segaran acknowledges that “industry 4.0 is inevitable” and a “global challenge”, but that part of the challenge is that most of the technical colleges in Malaysia are actually working in under capacity. Meaning, our students are not taking full advantage of the technical resources available to them.
Thus, ongoing efforts are currently in place to ensure that the Ministry of Human Resources’ Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system will gear us towards embracing technological proficiency. It’s all about preparing our workforce for Industry 4.0 because when it comes it will require both complementing and supplementing the efforts of all parties concerned.
Together with the Ministry of Human Resources, a number of bodies are already mobilising our workforce in preparation, for instance the National Occupational Skills Standard (NOSS) addresses 29 sectors and helps to develop their respective training programmes. They work in conjunction with the Industry Lead Body (ILB), which ensures that training is aligned with the latest industry and technology needs like cyber security, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Tuan Kula Segaran aims to streamline the current TVET system as multiple ministries are operating their own versions of it. The Minister is confident that the study on TVET in Malaysia will improve operational efficiency, enhance quality of learning, and thrive on a sustainable funding model. Ultimately, he will work on developing TVET’s brand recognition so that more Malaysians can access its learning pathways. He looks forward to its tentative implementation scheduled for October of this year.
“The employment of local workers is a priority for the Ministry of Human Resources”, said Tuan Kula Segaran. When discussing the issue of the high number of low-skilled foreign labour in Malaysia, he outlined his proposal to “cap the percentage of foreign workers in the total workforce at 15% by 2020”. In order to reach that bold initiative, the Ministry of Human Resources is working closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs to revisit and review current policies, laws, regulations, and directives.
Tuan Kula Segaran notes that “the influx of low-skilled foreign labour has been the result of the proliferation of low-paying and unattractive 3Ds [Dull, Dirty, Dangerous] jobs”. Thus, it is closely tied with the aforementioned pay-raise proposal. He brought up a successful model that was introduced in Penang where almost all 3D jobs in the government sector were held by Malaysians; they managed this feat by adequately compensating local workers with enough to spend on themselves and living expenses. Additionally, various initiatives have been set in motion to woo local workers such as improving workplace facilities and provide shelter, provide training programmes to increase competency, and encourage upward mobility from labour-intensive to knowledge-intensive jobs.
Tuan M. Kula Segaran has a sincere vision for his ministry that is near to his heart; he aims to uplift the downtrodden by playing a “significant role” in driving and sustaining Malaysia’s economic growth. Due to his approachable, hands-on style, Tuan Kula Segaran will work closely with our workforce to prepare them for today’s rapidly developing digital reality. As a man of his words, his actions speak volumes about his authentic character – “my doors are always open to talk to people and get things done”. With this can-do attitude, no doubt our nation may not only be ready for, but lead the way for Industry 4.0.