SINCE the construction industry requires sufficient planning to meet various challenges and needs of the competition in the age of globalisation, locals should get involved in the sector, and more encouraging initiatives are required to increase local participation in the industry.
This ongoing issue has always been the talk of the town, and the government’s latest decision to allow only three industries to hire foreign workers – construction, plantation and agriculture – is a smart move to reduce our reliance on foreign workers.
It relates to the statement by the Deputy Human Resources Minister Awang Hashim in Parliament that other sectors currently using foreign workers will be required to employ locals.
The common perception of the people that the construction sector is less attractive compared with others has increased. Plus, it also fails to attract local attention because most locals are more interested in venturing into other industries that are usually classier, coupled with better job security.
The Statistics Department reported the unemployment rate in May has increased to 5.3% from 5% in April, and the number of unemployed people increased by 47,300 to 826,100 individuals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The participation of locals in the construction industry may be part of the solution to lower the unemployment rate of our country as this can be one successful alternative in providing jobs to local people while soothing them to be less worried about their future careers.
It is also in line with the Emir Research Quarterly Poll for the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), which indicates that the lack of job opportunities is one of the rakyat’s worry indicators in the National Worry Index (NWI). The score on the scale ranged from 0 to 1 was 0.78, showing a maximum worried rakyat.
Local skilled labour is also seen to be a problem because foreign workers seem to be more proficient in the industry than the local workforce, and this is also why most construction companies tend to hire foreign workers – for their willingness, speed and better quality of work.
According to a study by Universiti Teknologi Mara, factors that may lead to a shortage of local skilled labour are low wage guarantee, unfortunate career path, poor image of the industry and work environment, and level of education.
The factors will become the border stones that hinder most of our country’s efforts to ensure more participation of local skilled workforce in the construction sector. Thus, an in-depth analysis should be carried out to help the government undertake significant measures to resolve the issues.
The study also suggested the best way to increase the participation of the local skilled workforce in the construction industry is by commercialising the skills to be more attractive and encouraging, such as through the Continuous Contractor Development Programme (CCD Programme) and increasing more training programmes and implementing specialised training, especially for local youth to improve their skills.
And, the government should also provide incentives to smaller companies to train local labour, increase the salaries of the local workforce, and restrict and minimise the recruitment of foreign workers in the construction industry.
Although it may seem impossible, a great way to attract local people’s interest is by giving them more benefits and convincing them the construction industry is not just an alternative after struggling to secure any jobs.
It is, in fact, a part of the critical sectors, and if the right government assistance is there, it will undoubtedly have greater job security, and reasonable remuneration and benefits.
So, the government should take any emerging issues within the industry seriously to maintain the industry’s achievement in remaining a catalyst of growth because the sector contributed 4.5% to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1Q20.
The construction sector should be the priority for the good of our country as it plays a vital role in generating wealth and providing the nation with a better quality of life, which is necessary for the country’s development.
Before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the performance of the construction industry was excellent as the sector recovered by 1.3% in the fourth quarter of 2019 (4Q19) compared with a contraction of -0.6% in the previous quarter.
However, the impact of the virus has exacerbated the situation because, after that fourth-quarter recovery, the value of construction work done in 1Q20 contracted by 6.3%.
Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) chief executive Ahmad’s Asri Abdul Hamid also reported that the sector recorded RM11 billion in losses during the first phase of the movement-control order (MCO).
Besides, only 23% of all construction sites inspected by CIDB had yet to start operations before July 2020, and the CIDB survey showed the critical problem was labour shortages, as most construction companies depend on migrant labour.
Most migrant labourers were not permitted to enter Malaysia when the MCO came into effect and did not come forward for Covid-19 screening, thereby preventing them from returning to work.
Therefore, because the construction sector is expected to create a low-hanging opportunity for the government to pump-prime the economy, locals’ involvement in the industry should be increased to provide a sigh of relief to the construction industry. – August 3, 2020.
* Farhan Kamarulzaman is a research assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think-tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.