The Star Online
Tuesday, 01 Dec 2020

AS a way to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) weather the storms that have assailed the sector this year, the Government has planned incentives and programmes that seek to either directly help them, or train them to become more agile and better adapt to change.

SMEs are a vital lifeline in a country, as they represent the grassroots that keep the local economy going by encouraging growth, employment and income.

Multinational corporations (MNCs), however, also form another crucial layer, by accentuating and propelling growth in the nation by injecting much needed funds, technology and knowledge into the economy.

In fact, MNCs and SMEs hold a sort of symbiotic relationship that will benefit one another.

This is even more apparent during these pandemic times, when restrictions in movement to contain the infections have caused a contraction in the economy.

The SME Leadership programme that was held last year receives a thumbs up from the participants.

Co-dependant progress

According to Greatech Integration (M) Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Tan Eng Kee, MNCs can play a significant role in helping local companies develop into stronger partners for the overall good of the nation.

Tan opines that a form of a partnership programme between an MNC and a local company should be developed to establish synergy between the two.

“That means there should be commitment involved, ” he said.

Tan pointed out that when an MNC invests in Malaysia, they look forward to good incentives and to get a good rate in their returns.

He opined, “But I am of the opinion that MNCs should play a larger role in developing local companies.” His suggestion is that the Malaysian Investment Development Authority could introduce some guidelines that can help local companies develop through the help of MNCs if they wish to invest here in Malaysia.

The Electrical & Electronic Forum’s organising chairman Datuk Seri Wong Siew Hai said that the discourse will inspire attendees to listen and learn from industry experts.

“Local companies mostly face problems in research and development, funding and in marketing.

“These are usually family businesses that eventually become public-listed companies, so the experience of the directors and CEOs there is different, as they would not have worked in an MNC before and would need to learn how to overcome these challenges on their own, ” he shared.

For local companies, marketing is very important as MNCs have the advantage of owning sales offices worldwide to market their products and get cheaper local resources.

Gaining a foothold overseas allows SMEs to expand and grow their businesses.

Unfortunately, with the current restriction in travelling, many SMEs are constrained from not only furthering their international reach, they are also confined within their state, which makes matters worse.

Before long, the situation becomes unsustainable and by the time the pandemic ends, many local companies could end up as casualties in the war against the infection. For Tan, a value-friendly policy from the Government is needed while implementing these movement restriction controls.

He said, “That’s why we need to learn how to position ourselves in terms of marketing, and in terms of strategy. And if all of these are fulfilled, we can become international players as well.”

Tan also suggested that companies start nurturing talents right at an early stage.

“For example, at Greatech we started a Young Engineers Programme, just two years ago.

“We’d hire 50 fresh graduates to train as local talents in R&D, and we believe this will help our company to grow together, ” he said.

Greatech Integration (M) Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Tan Eng Kee said MNCs and a local companies should work together in partnership programmes.

He noted that Malaysia has good talent and that design and marketing are the areas that need focusing on currently and added, “It doesn’t matter where you are in Malaysia, the competition is not only with local companies; thanks to globalisation, it is now worldwide.”

Expanding horizons

Other agencies have also stepped up in their concern for the overall economy during these pandemic times. One of these is the electrical and electronics (E&E) industry.

One way SMEs can grow their businesses further is to embrace the advent of technology, which is the concern that was addressed in the E&E Forum, held yesterday.

Planned and run by the E&E Productivity Nexus (EEPN), the forum is open to governmental agencies, especially policy makers, members of the E&E industry, SMEs and MNCs and delved into three main areas.

It explored the future of the E&E industry in the midst of supply chain disruption and sought ways of growing local system designs and development capabilities within Malaysia, to enable it to rise as a recognised force within the region and the world.

Finally, it also discussed the challenges that are faced in fostering local companies into global champions.

Forum’s organising chairman Dato’ Seri Wong Siew Hai said that the discourse will inspire attendees to listen and learn from experts so they would have a plan on how to move forward.

In the first year of the forum – just last year in July – key details of how important the E&E industry were shared with the Government and other industry players.

“We have also benchmarked our industry, government policies and incentives with the rest of the world.

“This year, we are talking about very specific topics on how to go up the value chain and how to grow Malaysian champions, and global champions if possible, ” Wong elaborated.

Some of the forum panellists include foreign speakers such as panelists from Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) from USA, Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) from Taiwan, SEMI from Taiwan and the Worldbank.

Forging expertise

The EEPN, together with the Malaysian Productivity Corporation (MPC), aims to assist companies to recover from the economic contraction due to the pandemic.

Kicking these efforts off was a series of webinars that will help companies rethink, reinvent and revitalise in the new normal, in order to help them make the climb towards recovery and grow against the tide of disruption.

Wong said, “We had more than a thousand attendees and even Malaysians from overseas called in to listen to the webinars.

“After that we will set up business virtual advisory clinics where any SME or Malaysian company can sign up for and are assigned a coach.”

In addressing one of the main challenges expressed by Tan earlier, one solution is the creation of an E&E Market Place Malaysia Portal, where SMEs can reach out to potential customers from around the world.

The portal will also showcase Malaysian E&E companies’ competencies and allow them to promote themselves.

The EEPN and MPC have also organised fourth industrial revolution (IR4.0)-based programmes, which included regional conferences, PlugFest – a unique hands-on programme that helps build an internal talent pool by applying the principles of IR4.0 such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and more.

“There will also be real-time competitions held for university students where they can solve industrial problems via their engineering projects.

“Students will have exposure to IR4.0 and hopefully when they finish their university degree, they will join the workforce with a better appreciation of IR4.0, ” Wong said.

IR4.0 technology centres have been established nationwide, he shared.

“So far we have eight technology centres including one in Sarawak, and we have hope to open more for companies to get IR4.0-related training or advice, ” Wong added.

Training classes for SME employees are also established in collaboration with Universiti Malaya and RWTH Aachen University of Germany to provide advanced hands-on training on programming and on solving industrial problems.

There will also be an SME leadership programme for companies that earn RM3mil to RM10mil in revenue to help them move their companies forward.

It will aso help to promote, what Wong calls an “Inari Waterfall effect”, which will encourage MNCs to support local companies by choosing locally made automation over foreign ones.

“As we prepare them to grow and go for listing, key topics will be introduced to them such as business strategy, human resource development, digitalisation and more.

So far, Wong shared that SMEs have provided positive feedback as these programmes have helped them prepare and steer their companies in the right direction.