As young Malaysian professionals set their sights on careers overseas, a key challenge for the nation is: how do business leaders and organisations attract their talents to come back home?
It’s a serious question that requires deep consideration.
As parents dream of sending their children to foreign universities, one possible effect is that fresh graduates will want to remain in their new homes.
For one thing, salaries are much higher in places where the cost of living is lower than in Malaysia.
In the UK, for example, an entry-level lecturer can earn twice as much the equivalent of a lecturer in Malaysia with five-to-ten years’ experience.
What’s more, foreign salaries tend to stretch further. Even when living within cities such as London, salaries are aligned to the costs of living.
Outside the cities, star performers can make a very comfortable living, while enjoying freedoms that they don’t find here in Malaysia.
For the country manager of recruitment firm, Robert Walters, Kimberlyn Lu constantly wrestles with the challenge of how to attract Malaysian talents back home.
In her appearance on The Leaderonomics Show with host Sarah Lim, Kimberlyn first addressed the changes she’s seen in recruitment over the years.
For the full interview with Kimberlyn Lu, watch the video:
She said, “Ten years ago, you would find that it’s the top MNCs that would engage a recruitment firm with a view that it’s a cost.
“Now, we find more and more mid-sized companies, SMEs and local companies really having an appreciation for what recruitment can bring. So, our client base is now more diverse.
“Secondly, we find that traditionally, a lot of candidates ten years ago would look for jobs with your typical MNC.
“Now, that appetite has changed, and candidates are more than willing to join start-ups, emerging companies and local organisations. So, there’s always a fight for good talent.
“The exposure that you get working in a small or growing company, versus a large organisation, means that you learn different things.”
Kimberlyn talked about the challenges faced by Asian companies in their quest to hire international talent (i.e. Malaysians who currently work abroad) and revealed that the team at Robert Walters play a considerable role to help Asian companies overcome those challenges.
When asked why Malaysians working abroad should consider returning home, Kimberlyn pointed to the potential of career growth and progression as just two of the reasons why they might want to come back.
She said, “A lot of Asian companies are at the point where they’re still potentially small or mid-sized, and looking to grow.
“Hence, if you were a talent who joins the right place at the right time, you’d be working for a company that’s looking to grow aggressively.
“So, potentially, you’re able to get involved, end-to-end, in projects, which you might not get in big companies because your role would be smaller and defined.
“In an Asian company, you can start in R&D, to product development, all the way to launch, and you get that full gamut of exposure.
“It can also help to propel your career, working for a company that’s looking to grow. Because the company’s looking to scale up, your career grows exponentially.”
Given that the potential for a meaningful career exists here in Malaysia, what is it that keeps young Malaysians flocking overseas to begin their work lives?
For Kimberlyn, a likely attraction lies in how companies abroad engage their workforce.
“International companies tend to be recognised more for better workplace culture, and have better emphasis on work-life balance and all these things that are progressively more important,” she said.
“That’s why we play a strong advisory role to our Asian company clients, letting them know that beyond career progression, these things are equally important.
“And we’re finding that more and more Asian companies are adapting to this; they’re more open to creating a positive workplace, because these are non-monetary, but are equally important to people.”
For Kimberlyn – a recruitment veteran of over 10 years – one of the most important joys of work life is the ability to meet many people and gain insights from their experiences.
She said, “Fortunately, my job allows me to meet a lot of people and I find the reason I love my job is because I can learn from everyone.
“It need not be someone senior; I could be learning from an intern I’m interviewing, or an MD who has had 25 years of career experience. This is what keeps me very inspired.”
When asked how she thought young people in Malaysia today could benefit from early work experiences, Kimberlyn advised that it’s more important to seek out ways in which they can add value, rather than simply looking to receive it.
Certainly, one criticism of young people throughout the generations is that some fresh graduates can feel entitled, whether it comes to their salary, progress, guidance, and other aspects of their new jobs.
As Kimberlyn put it, young people need to be more active in their own learning and to realise that it’s not a one-way transactional relationship, where they can constantly be in receive mode.
She said, “What are they doing extra to seek out new learning, and what are they doing on their own time to scale up their learning?
“It’s not just about receiving (lessons), but about proactively doing something and also giving back.”
From that point, young professionals are bound to benefit greatly as they work to make a valuable contribution to their team and organisation, which will ultimately lead to a greater return on investment for them in the long run.
Sandy is a former Leaderonomics editor and is now a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. As editor of www.leaderonomics.com, he has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.