Malaysia SMEs eyeing laid off workers

PETALING JAYA - Businesses are still positive over employment in the new year although several groups are painting a gloomy picture.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are said to be keen on hiring employees retrenched from bigger corporations.

"SMEs are always complaining that they can't find middle-management personnel," said Neil Foo, the CEO of the Secretariat for the Advancement of Malaysian Entrepreneurs.

He said SMEs are taking the opportunity to fill in the management void with experienced executives that downsizing companies were forced to let go.

He expects to see a restructuring of workforce this year whereby the commodity and import sector will be "right-sizing" themselves whereas export-oriented companies will be using the chance to expand their manpower.

"We hear a lot of businesses are expanding right now. They always said it was difficult to hire and they faced a lack of manpower.

"But now, they have the option to recruit from whatever extra capacity in the workforce," he said.

Echoing Foo's thoughts was SME Association of Malaysia president Michael Kang, who said the next three years presented good prospects for businesses.

Kang agrees that SMEs will get a good chance to hire skilled employees.

"SMEs are always short of local staff. Every company is at least short of two to 10 employees, depending on the company's size," he said.

He added that this was also the best time to restructure, re-educate and upgrade the skills of their staff.

"This is because you do not need to worry about trained staff running away (hopping to another job)," Kang said.

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Low Kian Chuan believes that there will be a general slowdown in recruitment.

Administrative positions will take a hit, he said, but skilled and semi-skilled work was still aplenty.

"Malaysians, in general, do not want blue-collar jobs. That is why we have to resort to hiring so many foreign workers," he said, adding that foreign help is much costlier than local workers.

Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Hua Zong) president Tan Sri Pheng Yin Huah, however, noted that steel mills and the glove-making industries are set to suffer due to high natural gas prices.

He pointed out that the increase in price to RM18.50 (S$6) per million British Thermal Units (MMBtu) for subsidised piped gas has significantly raised the cost of production.

"The increase in cost went up to tens of millions of ringgit, forcing three big local steel mills to cease operations," he said.

Pheng, one of the biggest shareholders of Perwaja Holdings Bhd, declined to name the companies.

He predicts a bleak 2016, urging the International Trade and Industry Ministry to step in to help revive the industry.

"In the end, the country's development relies heavily on the steel mill industry," he said.