Making the Needs of Employees and Employers Meet
By Elizabeth SuFEATURE
Vocational training is what keeps workers skilled and relevant. PSDC has been steadily providing this service for decades.
Vocational education and training (VET) connotes pre-employment training, skills upgrading, retraining and remedial training, which are all meant to prepare individuals for employment. In Penang, the Penang Skills Development Centre (PSDC) is the main provider of VET. Under its umbrella, programmes in leadership and business management, technical development, information technology, industry-endorsed specialised certification programmes (IESCP) as well as skills training in engineering and applied engineering are offered to students and workers. They culminate in a certificate, a diploma or a degree.
Decades Developing Talents
Established in May 1989, PSDC is a nonprofit organisation comprising 198 member companies with more than 120,000 employees. More than half of its members are in the electronics (31%), manufacturing (24%) and engineering (21%) sectors. The self-sustaining talent development institution is governed by a tripartite management council, consisting of 16 representatives from industry, six from the government and two from academia. Its facilities in Bayan Lepas, housing training rooms and shared labs occupy 248,000 sq ft of space.
At its launch, PSDC had a modest offering of 32 courses and attracted 559 trainees. By the middle of 2015, it was conducting as many as 375 courses, and training 7,048 participants. PSDC’s 21st graduation ceremony was held on June 18 last year, and to date, over 203,000 participants have graduated from its programmes.
PSDC enjoys industry support from companies such as Intel, Motorola, Hitachi, HP, AMD, National Instruments Malaysia and Philips. Its current chairman is Dr Juergen Schloesser from B Braun, and its shared services centre includes labs for electromagnetic compatibility, radio frequency, computer and embedded systems, prototyping, rapid model development and calibration. PSDC also offers consultancy services in the form of training needs analysis and instructional systems design.
The German Dual Vocational Training Programme
The German Dual Vocational Training (GDVT) programme, which was launched in Penang in October 2015, provides a consistent supply of well-trained employees to meet industry needs. The learning structure comprises 42 months of training, with a quarter of the classes conducted at PSDC, and the rest conducted on the job at factory sites.
Accreditation is provided by the Department of Skills Development (DSD) based on the National Occupational Skills Standard (NOSS), using the National Dual Training System and the Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AHK) certification.
Targeting two groups of participants – existing workers and school leavers with credits in English, mathematics and science – GDVT offers two pathways to acquire work skills: the 12-month GDVT Advanced Skills Diploma for NOSS skills level 5, and the 28-month GDVT Skills Diploma for NOSS skills levels 2-4. There is a 12-month Malaysian Meister Programme in the pipeline as well.
The key benefit for host companies is a pipeline of well-trained technicians, some of whom have been upskilled from an existing pool of workers. Under GDVT’s Breaking Boundaries initiative, companies support the training programme with a levy from the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) that pays for 80% of the training costs, while the Penang state government, with its RM2mil sponsorship, subsidises the remaining 20%. This adds up to local government support of RM900 for the Advanced Skills Diploma, and RM3,300 for the Skills Diploma programme.
The first batch of 22 participants in the 2015 mechatronics programme comprised employees from Inari Technology, B Braun Medical Industries and Osram Opto Semiconductors. In 2016, 41 participants from Southern Steel, Carsem Malaysia, Dynecraft Industries, Bosch Malaysia and B Braun joined the GDVT mechatronics programme in two intakes.
According to Osram apprentice Halie Osman, “GDVT is a flexible sponsored diploma programme for shop floor people in upgrading skill sets and a career path, and the flexibility of this programme makes us feel like we are pursuing a diploma programme while working.”  To Halie, the GDVT programme is unique because “70% of the module is designed in practical mode at the company itself. This gives us a chance to have real hands-on activities with guidance from internal experienced coaches and subject matter experts.”
GDVT programme coordinators, such as Sebastian Goalz believe that GDVT “supports young people to be confident, responsible and active employees with good communication and cooperation skills.” Tan Hooi Houng adds that the programme not only complements the current vocational training in Malaysia, but will also revolutionise the standards for how vocational and technical training should be conducted.
In Germany, around two-thirds of all students leaving school go on to start a vocational training programme. Every year, about 336,000 vocational training instructors produce around 1.5 million trainees in the field of industry, trade and services. German businesses spend €23bil per year on vocational training, and there are around 350 officially recognised training programmes in Germany. 
Preparing for Workforce Challenges
According to PSDC CEO Muhamed Ali Hajah Mydin, the challenges PSDC expects to face in 2017 include changes in government policy on the funding of student study loans, a reduction in the number of students sponsored by the government, and the low interest of school leavers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes.
“For workforce transformation (that prepares trainees to move upward in their careers, e.g. operator to technician, technician to engineer, and senior manager to CEO), companies are careful on spending for training programmes due to uncertainties in the global market and local economic situation. During the past five years, we noticed many private training companies in the market mostly offering non-technical programmes or soft skills. We saw there were few good companies providing technical programmes,” says Muhamed.
Muhamed adds that funding from various government agencies was shrinking, leading to companies becoming more careful in spending money on training. The outcome was that “companies would try to utilise their HRDF contribution as soon as possible, regardless of their real needs for technical programmes.”
These observations, coupled with the realisation that government funding policies are changing from “train and place” to “place and train,” make it all the more urgent to have more companies moving to technical and certification-type programmes.
PSDC offers upskilling programmes in the form of its Breaking Boundaries initiative, “where we upskill senior employees, with companies using their HRDF levy. Upskilling is for current employees and graduates.” According to Muhamed, “Our industrial skill enhancement programme in 2001 was funded by the federal government; we trained 500 workers then. In 2015 and 2016, respectively, PSDC upskilled 1,100 graduates and 499 graduates.”
In reskilling, PSDC trains mostly current employees who have to take on new functions or tasks. For example, an engineering manager can be reskilled to take on logistics or supply chain management. A mechanical engineer cannot be reskilled to do electrical engineering, but it is possible to reskill him to perform new duties in a similar area. Another reskilling target group would be those who are retrenched.
In 2016 PSDC offered 325 courses in future skilling, about 85% of which were short-term programmes. “We are very much involved with future skilling,” Muhamed says. “We are working with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida), Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), HRDF and other agencies.
“Last April, we met to plan and discuss a massive programme. Next year alone, if everything goes well in 2017, we will have 2,500 industry trainees enrolled in our short courses spanning from half a day to a maximum of six days. In June and July this year, we will come up with a syllabus for longer-term courses and hopefully, by end-2017, we will work with universities to share in training.”
PSDC has a programme in STEM education for students in the engineering track. This programme was started in October 2016 and exposes students in Form 1 to engineering. The hope is that this “early” exposure will create interest in STEM subjects. Though there has been a lot of talk about moving into research and development, Muhamed believes that the nature of industry in Penang will still be in design and development. Hence, there will always be a place for technical and vocational training in Penang. PSDC is working actively with national agencies in KL, Johor and other parts of Malaysia to create more future skilling programmes to better prepare Malaysians for jobs in the future. 
 Quotes taken from PSDC’s “GDVT information starter pack,” 23 January 2017.
 Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag, “VET in Germany,” Representative of German Industry + Trade, 2012, http://www.rgit-usa.com/fileadmin/ahkrgitusa/media/pdf/2012/VETinGermanyCompatibility_ Mode.pdf
 “Government GPFW,” Penang Skills Development Centre, 2017, http://www.psdc.org.my/programs/university-graduates/government-fundedprograms/government-insep/
is a Mason Fellow from Harvard. She believes that one of the best ways to learn is to ask the right questions.