THEY are in our homes, in plantations, manufacturing and construction industries, the food and beverage sector, some even operate their own businesses — they are a thriving workforce.
Foreign workers or expatriates? Their talent and skills are ubiquitous in many areas, such as industry experts and renovation specialists.
Reportedly, Malaysia has some six million of them. They are noble aliens, some with first-class work ethics. Domestic helpers, barbers, your personal drivers, cooks, cleaning ladies, janitors, fishmongers, babysitters and many more.
Economists say foreigners outnumber some of the local communities — probably true in some cases. Some of them have documents, others are illegal. They come and go as they please.
Interestingly, though, they keep the country ticking over nicely. If they went on a strike, paralysis would probably set in. How dependent are we on them.
There are heartbreaking stories, though, of families and single mothers living below the radar, miles away from home trying to keep body and soul together, and toiling to send money home.
Most of them admit life is good here. Why do they come here? Abject poverty, political instability and abuses have pushed hundreds to search for greener pastures.
Those from Indonesia, for instance — dispossession there is almost absolute, some can’t survive in their hometowns. They come here, hankering for a better life.
Does Malaysia need more foreign workers?
A news portal reported that for every documented foreign worker, there are 2.5 undocumented ones. Together, they number some six million, or one-sixth of Malaysia’s 32-million population.
What about a Malaysian workforce, instead, thriving and driving the economy?
Foreign workers should complement a country’s workforce, not take over, opines an economist. He elaborates — Malaysia needs a sustainable inflow of foreign workers to complement the workforce, at the same time motivate the unemployed youths to take up the 3D jobs with better wages.
This Leader believes it is time to build a brigade of local workers. The Manpower Department could visit Malaysia’s heartlands and encourage able-bodied persons to register for retraining to build the workforce.
Ex-military men in their 40s, those looking for new sources of income, school leavers, odd job workers, small traders and single mothers or fathers — these are potential workers. Army train them, not as soldiers, but as nation builders.
Organise foreign trips, to either Japan or South Korea — it may be costly, but a worthwhile investment.
It would be an eye-opener for participants to observe work procedures and ethics, perhaps even learn new technology. Provide them with incentives, such as allowances.
Identify the sectors which need workers the most and get employers to hire them. There must be collaboration and coordination from all sectors for this to work. Remember, the job market of the future would most probably consist of jobs that robots cannot perform.
Gardeners, for example, would still have jobs, because every garden is different, likewise for those in construction. Or, take a leaf from the 10-year-old Yayasan Sejahtera (YS), a non-governmental organisation focusing on poverty eradication and community development for B40 families.
YS has trained adults, youth and children and empowered them. A total of 12,986 persons have benefited from the programme since its inception.