Improving productivity and upskilling Malaysia’s public servants are key targets ahead of the country’s journey to a high-income nation by 2020, according to the government.

But an overhaul of the national curriculum, with public service improvements in mind, is needed in order for any meaningful skills enhancement to take place, according to one HR expert.

“Immediate remedial attention” needs to be given to national education policies and the curriculum, which are important drivers of improvements to public and private sector skills, said Dr Henry Yeoh, deputy president of the Malaysian Institute of Human Resource Management.

There are also other barriers to productivity gains. The sheer size of Malaysia’s public service sector is an issue, Dr Kua Kia Soong, advisor for Malaysia-based human rights group Suaram, told People Management.

It is “one of biggest in the world” currently with 1.3 million civil servants to a population of just over 31 million – a ratio of 4.5 per cent, he said, quoting the latest data. This compares with a ratio of 1.5 per cent civil servants to total population in Singapore, 2.3 per cent in Hong Kong and 2.3 per cent in Taiwan.

What’s needed to develop skills is a focus on efficiency and political will at the top, Dr Soong added.

There are signs the government agrees. Its Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) – the last leg of a development plan before the 2020 graduation to a high-income country – said the government should “resize the public service sector” and “remove underperformers”.

“Rationalising public sector institutions for greater productivity and performance by reducing overlapping roles and functions among agencies, right-sizing the public service, and introducing an exit policy for underperformers,” are key measures, according to the plan.

It also said that strengthening talent management by providing a more conducive working environment including flexible working arrangements, empowering ministries and agencies, and upgrading public sector training are priorities.

Aon Hewitt, the US–based HR consultancy, has conducted research on, and worked with, ministries and other government agencies in Malaysia. It said it has “observed a strong sense of pride aligned to nation-building [among public sector workers] that helps the government to build a positive employer brand”.

And, moreover, “government employees take pride in their jobs,” said Ridhima Khanduja, principal for talent, rewards and performance for Malaysia and Brunei, at Aon Hewitt.

In general, the factors that enable employees to deliver high performance remain the same for public and private companies. According to Aon’s Best Employers programme, there are four key areas of talent management that need to be followed by the Malaysian civil service: high employee engagement, effective leadership, a compelling employer brand and high performance culture, all of which are critical for improving productivity, Khanduja added.

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