Bright prospects for medical device sector, but more talent needed

The Edge Financial Daily, August 07, 2017

by Syahirah Syed Jaafar

KUALA LUMPUR: As the largest medical device market in Asean, Malaysia continues to evolve as a hub for medical device manufacturing, with over 250 companies in the industry thus far. Yet while the industry thrives, a shortage of skilled labour poses a growing problem.

Better awareness is therefore needed to attract the right talent, according to the Association of Malaysian Medical Industries (Ammi). The association was established in 1989 and currently represents 63 medical device firms, with two or three companies joining yearly.

“I think most people don’t actually understand healthcare as an industry,” said Ammi chairman Hitendra Joshi. “They think that working in the medical device industry is about the study of biology and requires hiring biology graduates,” he said.

“It doesn’t. The industry by and large employs engineers because we are manufacturers using machines, equipment,” Joshi told The Edge Financial Daily.

The awareness and understanding of the industry is poor among the student population, said Joshi, who is the head of government affairs and market access for Asia-Pacific at B Braun Medical Industries Sdn Bhd.

“If you ask a student if he wants to join the medical device industry, he probably wouldn’t be too sure what you’re talking about,” he added.

As such, Ammi wants to make it a priority to create more awareness, especially among those in academia. Joshi said future graduates should know that there is a stable career in the industry and that it even contributes to the purpose of saving lives.

The association has started reaching out to universities and hosting career talks, said Joshi, adding that it wants to see more universities implement the medical technology curriculum. The tertiary institutions, he said, should also train undergraduates before they seek employment, which would then save the company’s time and resources.

“We should see professors also being attached to industries, then they’ll have a real understanding of the industry when they [teach students],” said Joshi.

Increasing awareness is important for Ammi as talent pool is the main resource being competed for among companies in the industry.

“What new companies do when they first arrive [in Malaysia] is to take [talent] from existing companies. That’s the easier way out and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. They do that at the expense of creating a problem for themselves later on because when they increase the salaries it means they are inflating the salaries for no reason,” said Joshi.

Ammi anticipates 1,446 jobs to be created by its members this year, adding on to its current member workforce of over 31,000.

Nonetheless, it’s a positive picture, said Joshi. “Companies that have been here for so long are not moving out, they keep reinvesting. It shows that [Malaysia] is the place for them to be. We just need to keep increasing the right talent pool, so there is enough supply and companies can remain [equally] competitive,” he said.

Last week, the association launched its annual Medical Device Industry Outlook Report 2017, revealing that over 70% of its members expect to invest a total of RM1.4 billion in the country this year, reflecting strong investor confidence in the country.

The report also projects a 12% growth in Malaysia’s medical device exports this year to RM17.74 billion, from RM15.84 billion last year. Over 90% of medical devices manufactured in Malaysia are for exports, with medical gloves accounting for close to 50% of the exports.

Around 60% of Ammi’s members are expected to contribute to this total figure, similar to the ratio of their RM9.7 billion contribution last year.

At a media briefing last week, the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) said for the first half of 2017 (1H17), fewer medical device projects were approved but the total investment value was higher. Sixteen projects worth RM1.95 billion were approved, against 23 projects worth RM1.59 billion in the 1H16.

For the full year, Mida estimates the number of approved projects for the industry to match last year’s 41 projects worth RM2.9 billion.

Moving forward, Ammi is confident about investor prospects for the industry.

“There is already a visible presence of successful [medical device] companies in Malaysia. That itself would [further] attract interest from other companies to come to this region,” said Joshi.

As see in The Edge Financial Daily

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