Hiring in Malaysia – from the prism of race

Ice Cream Seller

Having just read an article about the findings of a study that was conducted regarding the hiring preferences and practices of employers in Malaysia, I would like to comment on this subject that we often avoid for whatever reason.

As someone who counts 30 plus years in commerce & industry, I have been immersed in this process from the very bottom to the very top. As I type, I am enroute to Kathmandu to interview candidates for work in Malaysia. A human trafficker no less.

Why are we going to the Himalayas to bring poor peasants to toil in our hot humid country – to be later abused by our cops, RELA, immigration ‘officers’, employers and other Malaysians, including managers, supervisors, migration agents, etc? Why are we not taking (to start with), local Indians to work in our factories when they seem to be the ones in greatest need of gainful employment?

Lets look at how employers tend to view local Indians.

For the English educated, there is consensus of their flair for the language (look at the litigation lawyers in the country). But that is at the professional level.

The view of employers (rightly or wrongly) is that Indians tend to be more talkative than others (more so amongst themselves), their EQ may not be comensurate with their IQ, they tend to have a ‘victim’ mentality and at the same time can have a fiery sense of pride. Often seen as argumentative by the others.

Generally considered loyal but as others in the Gen Y group, this is diminishing as a trait. Thanks to the NEP, they are no more fluent in English (urban excepted). Their Malay language skills may be quite good but what commercial value really does this have? On the contrary, the Chinese speaking Indians seem well embraced by Chinese employers.

As for the Chinese, what the employer sees is amongst others: someone with better self control & discipline, more suited to detailed work but perhaps not so adept in social skills when put in a cross cultural environment. Their EQ is generally viewed positively and for Chinese employers, they tend to see Chinese candidates as more likely to be loyal. Again, this fades with the onset of the Chinese Gen Y.

If the NEP is considered a fence, the Chinese employer views a Chinese prospect as being from the same side of the fence. They are CONSIDERED more suited for analytical type of work though this view is not necessarily cast in stone. Employers view Chinese candidates as more pragmatic and best suited for “greasing” the machinery of commerce, politics and government whenever called for.

Finally, but not least, the Malays. Let’s ignore the government view as there is only one seeming set of views judging by the civil service makeup. Employers in the private sector (excluding GLCs – as they are as good as or bad as the civil service, depending on how one looks at it) view them variously. These include the view that they are easy going, polite but volatile if rubbed the wrong way.

There is concern from the employer’s point when it comes to religion. Can the Malay leave his religion outside the door when he/she comes to work or does it come as a package deal?

Because the private sector (excluding GLCs again) are largely non-Malay (and by extension, the segment that did not seem to benefit from the NEP) there is a widespread view that Malay staff will carry with them all that was wrong with the NEP – monolingual, poor English skills, insular in outlook, placid and having qualifications that often fit neither here nor there. (This is by no means an exhaustive list).

At the same time, I will acknowledge that on least three occassions, I have put my life in the able and competent hands of three different Malay doctors (though all three are pre-NEP products and would have made it even without the NEP. In fact the NEP has done a great disservice to them being mistagged as NEP products).

As employers we often find many very good Malay staff but in the last 20 years, the same staff have found themselves – at different times – trapped in the dilema of conforming to peer pressure to conform to certain relatively new norms versus their inate sense of just wanting to be themselves. Increasingly, where suitable female Malay candidates are available, they are preferred to males. (Like it or not, this probably stems from the numerous negative role models on display from very public figures – from politicians, political wannabes to pampered sports personalities).

Today, if you walk into a large private sector company, the scenario is likely to look something like this : Accounts Dept – predominantly Chinese and nearly all female. The HR and Admin Depts – either Malay or Indian or both. The Sales/Marketing Depts – mostly Chinese (unless your customer  is the Government or GLCs). The cleaners – either Malay/Indonesian or Indian. The dispatch riders – Malay with a smattering of Indians. The drivers of the bosses – Indians or Malays.

Extend this scenario to outlets like KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald’s where the  counter staff are almost entirely Malays. In Indian eateries – it is Indians from India. In Chinese eateries – Burmese, Nepalese and anyone accept Malaysian!

When we have different medium schools available for Tamils, Chinese, Muslims (sekolah agama) and the others – either  national government or private schools- the parameters are set for differentiation for our young. Add to that, the  residential secondary schools that cater primarily to Malays

The hiring arena has certainly evolved a long way from 30 years ago and indeed much has transpired in the process. It is a great pity that one individual was allowed to orchestrate this process almost unfettered during this time. Like making a wrong turn on a long expressway, we need to wait till an exit appears to correct the journey. In the meantime, endure the ride or stop the car, get out and walk.