Malaysia Gears Up For Demand In Aviation Maintenance

Last update: 08/07/2014

(This is the first of a three-part article that focuses on the need for a mindset change towards vocational and technical education)

By Salbiah Said

DENGKIL -- Aircraft maintenance plays a vital role in airline safety.

Unless an airplane is maintained properly, it could pose danger to the safety of its occupants on board.

For this reason, aircraft technicians and engineers must be highly skilled when it comes to aircraft maintenance. Aircraft maintenance covers the overhaul, repair, inspection or modification of an aircraft or aircraft component.

"This fast expanding sector, involving high level of technology and competency, requires highly skilled people. It also entails high value jobs", said Datuk Pang Chau Leong, the Director-General of the Malaysian Skills Development Department of the Human Resources Ministry, to Bernama recently.

"That is the more reason why we need to focus more on human capital skills development. As this industry is highly regulated internationally, it also forces us to ensure the level of training and skills in Malaysia is of international and world standard," he said.

"That is why we are here for the inaugural national skills competition for aircraft maintenance. It is a historical event", said Pang after launching the World Skills Malaysia (Youth) Competition at the Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology (UniKL-MIAT) at Jenderam Hulu, here, which is the centre of excellence for aircraft maintenance.

WORLD SKILLS COMPETITION 2015

Pang said the competition was a very recent initiative, and that "we have not looked at it for a long time. It was timely, and served as a leveraging platform to emphasise the importance of skills and raising the bar in terms of quality of competencies".

Organised by the department, the competition held from June 14 to June 17, was to pick the best among the participants to represent Malaysia for the World Skills Competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil from Aug 11 to Aug 16, 2015.

UniKL-MIAT Dean, Dr Mohamed Idrus Abd Moin said there is a demand for skilled manpower in aviation maintenance.

"While one aircraft needs to be manned by at least one pilot, many technicians and licensed engineers are needed in the maintenance of then plane, especially in avionics and mechanical", he said.

Mohamed Idrus said: "Demand is great as per EPP (Entry Point Project). About 20,000 engineers will be required under EPP1 by 2020".

DEMAND FROM OEMs

EPP1 aims to develop Malaysia into a regional aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services hub, capitalising on the global market growth that is projected to reach RM205 billion by 2020.

"The demand is there. With interest shown by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) like Airbus to set up their base here, others will also come in. The first question they will ask is "Do you have the right numbers, quality and standards?" he said.

Pang said: "We want to create awareness and confidence among our society which often look at vocational and technical education as second choice."

"Many parents and youth do not look at it positively. They think it is for failures and for those who don't make it to university. It is almost the last resort. We want to change that perception. We need to get more of our youths to go into technical and vocational careers as well", he stressed.

Citing the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), he said 3.3 million new jobs would be created by 2020, with at least half or 40 percent of the new high value or high paying jobs, requiring technical and vocational training," said Pang.

CHANGING THE MINDSET

Launched on Sept 25 2010, the ETP plans to elevate the nation to a developed-nation status by 2020, targeting Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of US$15,000. This will be achieved by attracting US$444 billion in investments which will, in turn, create 3.3 million new jobs.

All these high value and high skilled jobs need upscaling and training, said Pang. "If parents and youth are not encouraged into going into that line, we will not be able to achieve our goals".

Pang said: "Our society needs a mindset change. We need to do away with or lessen societal stigma or negative perception towards this sector.

"If we can perform well at the World Skills Competition, investors would be drawn to invest. It shows that we have a highly skilled workforce.

"High value investors will come in. You can see the socio-economic implications from our participation in the World Skills Competition. It shows that we are no longer a low wage country as we have a world class workforce who can handle the most sophisticated technology", he added.

ATTRACTING HIGH-VALUE INVESTORS

"Many parents and youth do not look at skills training positively. They think it is for failures and for those who don't make it to university. It is almost the last resort. We want to change that. We need to get more of our youths to go into technical and vocational careers as well", said Pang.

"If we can ensure that we are capable of reaching world standards at the competition, we would be able to give confidence to society at large and policy makers that we have a strong support system", he said.

"I will urge the industry to be strategic partners rather than just becoming receivers or worse still, armchair critics. We want to be a partner in developing human capital to ensure our graduates fit in the industry and that there is no mismatch", he added.

Pang said the prospects were bright and promising, and high paying jobs were waiting for Malaysian youth in the future.

Ask whether the government should set terms and conditions for investors prior to setting up their operational headquarters in Malaysia, Idrus said this should be initiated by key stakeholders.

ENGAGING WITH INVESTORS

Pang said: "I think, it will be of strategic importance for us to talk about the transfer of technology. We can bring in the latest technology, but at the end of the day, we have to ask: "Do Malaysians benefit directly, instead of just investments? Do they become highly skilled and secure highly paid jobs?".

"We need to work with investors before they come in. There must be a change in our approach", he said.

"Skilled workers don't grow on trees. It takes long lead time and it does not happen by accident. It has to be planned. It makes sense to work with investors before they come in", said Pang.

Malaysia Airlines' Vice President and Schedule Planning Commercial Director, Rasul Razak, who was the chief judge of the national competition at UniKL-MIAT, said retraining at the industry level slows down the process. As a result, expatriates would fill up the gap.

He said 90 per cent of training had to be completed at the training school as it would not be cost effective to put fresh graduates for a six-month training before they could start work.

INDUSTRY WANTS MINIMAL TRAINING

"If the industry and institution can work together, this will narrow down the time taken for training. We want people who can work on our sophisticated technology," Rasul said.

"If we have to put you (graduates) back into training, there must be synergy. The industry wants only minimal training", he said.

Dr Mohd Idrus said: "There is no way that we can catch up with the technology pace, but we are not far off in meeting the industry's demand in aviation maintenance".

On the possibility of a brain drain, Rasul said: "We cannot stop it. The United Arab Emirates which has a population of half a million, imports labour, especially to work at various mega projects such as its airport. We don't want low-skilled labour such as cleaning roadsides".

Pang said: "We need to escalate and expand. Keep on training more. At least our industry does not suffer badly".

-- BERNAMA