Driving Malaysia’s industrial development through E&E

As one of the major ecosystems in Malaysia’s electrical & electronics (E&E) sector, the semiconductor segment plays a significant role in Malaysia’s economy. Contributing more than 40 percent of Malaysia’s E&E export, Malaysia is currently the world’s leading location for semiconductor assembly and test operations and is home to six out of the 10 largest semiconductor companies in the world, alongside over 50 multinational companies including Texas Instruments, Freescale Semiconductor, Infineon and Intel.

The E&E sector is expected to create an incremental gross national income (GNI) impact of RM53.4 billion and create 157,000 new jobs by 2020. Not only that, connectivity of information – or the Internet of Things (IoT) – is poised to drive the growth of the semiconductor industry globally within the next few years.

Osram Opto Semiconductors (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd Operation Controlling and Finance director Sor Kok Chiang believes that Malaysia has the potential to be a leader in the global E&E manufacturing industry.

Having transitioned from a career in finance, Kok Chiang spent 18 years in semiconductor manufacturing where he had the opportunity to be stationed in Germany, China and Singapore.

“There was an opportunity for me to learn and utilise my skills differently. The transition [from finance to semiconductor manufacturing] took some time, but working in various semiconductor companies previously gave me the right exposure to be able to perform in my current position,” says Kok Chiang.

Kok Chiang oversees operations of Osram plants in Germany, China and Malaysia from his operational base in Penang. “Osram’s presence in Malaysia and in Asia as a whole, accounts for a high proportion of our global manufacturing sites,” said Kok Chiang. Moreover, Osram’s operations in Malaysia has progressed from manufacturing to research and development (R&D) activities, “We currently have hundreds of Research and Development specialists in our Penang plant, who are all Malaysians,” says Kok Chiang.

When asked about his reasons for returning to Malaysia after almost two decades abroad, Kok Chiang smiles broadly. “Osram has a big presence in Malaysia, with a large manufacturing base that utilizes cutting edge technology which is continuously enhanced,” he explains. “There was an opportunity for me to come back, and Osram offered me a position which allowed me to manage global operations right here in Malaysia. The question in my head at the time was:

How can I innovate to contribute to a growing global business?”

Demand driving growth in the Malaysian E&E industry

Based on data published by IHS Global Insight earlier this year, the positive performance shown by Malaysia’s E&E export sector last year is expected to continue in 2017 on the back of strong growth in global demand for both consumer-oriented devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, and wearables) as well as commercial-oriented technologies (e.g. industrial machinery and oil-drilling rigs). Moreover, with the establishment of the Electrical and Electronics Strategic Council (EESC) in place, the E&E sector is set to grow to the next level. Established in 2015, the EESC will facilitate local companies with strategic development plans that will spark the local E&E sector’s potential to compete globally. E&E is anticipated to continue generating high-skilled jobs for talents interested in pursuing global career opportunities from within the country.

While he feels more can be done in the public–private partnership space to ensure the E&E sector benefits from the right infrastructure, Kok Chiang believes the sector has set a benchmark for research and development (R&D) activities in Malaysia. “E&E manufacturing companies invest a lot in technology. Typically, 7 to 10 percent of their annual revenue is spent on R&D.” In December 2016, Osram Opto Semiconductors launched their LED chip production plant at the Kulim Hi-Tech Park in Kedah. The plant is the largest and most modern LED chip production site in the world, and will further enhance the LED market in Malaysia and the company’s leading position in the global LED market.

Osram’s new light emitting diode (LED) plant is slated for completion in the second quarter of 2017 and will create over 1,500 skilled jobs in Malaysia. Given this, Kok Chiang hopes to see more interest in the semiconductor sector from young Malaysians, particularly those from and around Kedah. “The chance to have global careers is present here in Malaysia, but do we have enough people interested in the semiconductor sector?” says Kok Chiang, who is of the opinion that talent would benefit from exploring career pathways outside of their academic or professional qualifications. He also feels that international exposure plays a key role in career progression within E&E. “In my opinion, mobility and exposure is important. This means that if you have international exposure and you are mobile, you will definitely have an opportunity for career advancements.”

For Malaysian talents at home and abroad who are interested in E&E but are uncertain of the sector’s career prospects in Malaysia, Kok Chiang has this to say. “The grass is often perceived as being ‘greener’ overseas, but if we are able to highlight opportunities here which are competitive and match a jobseeker’s [criteria] in terms of professional growth, I think it’s possible to have an enriching career here in Malaysia.”

He adds, “Always have a macro view of the world, regardless of where you’re based. Also, always keep yourself updated on what’s going on and what sectors have potential for growth.”