Monday, March 09, 2009

Re-Skilling, Right-Skilling, Multi-Skilling to avoid Killing the Future

The Malaysia's stimulus mini-budget is to be announced on Tuesday to ride on the current downturn. Obviously, 2009 is still uncertain as we speak and the gloomy outlook looks like to be prevailing into 2010.
Most developed countries are already in recession and the third tsunami wave is now reaching the third world countries. Job losses are reaching new level heights all over the world, even in the UAE with the retrenchments are still on going across the industries.

All over the planet, governments have taken unprecedented steps to stimulate their economies and recapitalise ailing financial institutions through bail-outs etc.

The main concern is to save jobs by re-skilling or some coin it as the right-skilling.

In Singapore, a “job credit” scheme was introduced as an option to preserve jobs as much as possible during downturn. Every employer will be provided with a cash grant to reduce their cost of employing Singaporean workers. This costs the government about S$4.5bil.

It is a temporary measure to help companies through the crisis and the Singaporean government has chosen this path over the granting of corporate tax rebates. The rational of this approach is that businesses should not cut jobs to save costs but reduce costs to save jobs. The government has also introduced so-called a cash top-up for low-income workers.

To encourage re-skilling, measures have been taken to step up training across all levels of the workforce by doubling the number of courses run by certain Singaporean government institutions and increasing course subsidies.

Here across the Gulf, amid the gloomy days and the relentless downsizing of firms, it's refreshing to see one of the region's larger companies adopt a novel approach to its restructuring efforts - and one that could reap considerable benefits in terms of team commitment.

According to Arabian Business:
Sorouh Real Estate, Abu Dhabi's second-largest property developer, has been hit hard by the real estate crash and the resultant slump in demand for new units. Rather than slash jobs, however, the firm last week revealed that it plans to retrain its engineers to work in customer service roles, in a bid to prevent redundancies.

The initiative, termed "right skilling" by Sorouh, will no doubt be viewed with suspicion by engineers more at ease on the building site than in the showhome.

However, with the region's property sector listing badly and engineering positions scarce in other markets too, the majority will soon embrace the opportunity to further develop - and diversify - their skillset. In these tight times, you can never have too many strings to your bow.

Provided Sorouh can keep its engineers awake as they are retrained in the dark arts of mortgage application assistance and call centre etiquette, then the firm will rightly be hailed as an excellent example to others. Rather than slashing training to cut costs, they are developing the skills of their workforce and should emerge fitter for it.

Those employees that accept retraining will appreciate that Sorouh chose not to swing the axe, while all around them others were losing their heads. That knowledge should be enough to instill an enhanced loyalty to their employer, and to generate an extra 10 percent from each staff member during a period when a strong sense of collective responsibility could make a difference to the futures of many Gulf firms.

Let us be under no illusions: Sorouh is operating in one of the hardest-hit sectors in the region. ‘Right skilling' is not a catch-all solution and will not boost the developer's bottom line. However, with the right moves at the right time, and a leadership prepared to educate employees rather than just boot them off the payroll, it might just come out stronger on the other side.
In my own experience, I am proud to say that I am a MULTI-SKILLED professional. With my computer science degree, I have morphed myself into different set of skills, telecommunication, design of utility and infrastructure, construction works, business strategy, business development, management, project management and satellite communication...to mention a few.

Well, Jack of all trades, master of none. And plenty of fun along the way.

And I am also a creative writer.....with a new short story anthology and novel to be published soon, inshaAllah!

Back to the RM35 billion stimulus package, one of the most important areas to be considered, I guess and hope, will be ensuring employment and re-employment of the rakyat. These measures include providing grants to local businesses, giving tax incentives, such as by way of enhanced deductions.
These steps may serve as impetus for companies to keep in check the unemployment levels and survive the current stormy ride into the future.

Daim says: Crisis also a time for opportunity



Based on the steps being taken by the government, is it possible for Malaysia to get out of the current economic situation?

This global crisis is the worst since the 1930s and some say in the past 100 years; and it is affecting
severely major sources of global growth, namely trade and investment.

Malaysia needs to take the right measures to help the affected sectors overcome this crisis. The first
stimulus package is an initial response. So, it is too early to say whether the government's response will help Malaysia overcome the crisis.

The government has announced that the Mini- Budget will be more comprehensive and bigger. The
Federal and State governments will have to work together to ensure effective implementation to produce quick results without wastage.

This crisis is also a time for opportunity. It gives the government time to plan for the next five to 10 years. It needs to put on its thinking cap. Identify new industries. Old manufacturing policies are dead. We can’t compete with countries like China or Vietnam in low-cost and labour-intensive industries.

In your opinion, given the current situation, what form of drastic but effective measures should the government implement?

The government should implement measures that can expand domestic economic activities and boost
domestic demand. These may include quick-to-implement infrastructure projects with large multiplier effects. It is also important that the government boosts public confidence so that people will spend and the private sector will invest.

Unemployment is another major area to be tackled. It is estimated that during the present crisis, 50 million people will lose their jobs globally and American intelligence sources say this will be a bigger threat to the world than terrorism.

How large should the allocation in the stimulus package be to stimulate the Malaysian economy?

The stimulus package should be sufficiently large to give the necessary expansionary effect. It should be, in my opinion without the benefit of figures, at least two per cent of the GDP. But the size of the package alone is not sufficient. We must also consider the types of measures introduced, the multiplier effects of the measures as well as the effectiveness of the implementation, including the capacity to implement.

The government claims that the country’s economic fundamentals and financial system are sound enough to face the global economic crisis. Do you agree? Can Malaysia sustain itself just by relying on a strong banking system?

Malaysia has benefited from having a sound and strong financial sector in facing the current global crisis because we were not affected by the first phase of the crisis, namely the financial sector
turmoil, except for the sharp fall in the stock market.

However, the health of the financial system is also dependent on the state of the economy. If there is going to be high number of defaults, then non-performing loans may increase and this will
affect the banks’ capital base. The banking sector also has an important role to play in this crisis – it must continue to extend loans because if banks are overtly cautious, the private sector will not be able to continue its operations because of lack of financing. Banks must be encouraged by the government to lend to productive sectors and help small businesses.

Bank Negara should do stress tests on all banks on the assumption that there will be negative growth,
unemployment will increase, exports will go down and NPLs will increase.

Will the Mini-Budget be enough to resuscitate the economy?

We have to wait until the Mini-Budget is announced.

What should be the main focus in the Mini-Budget?

The areas that should be focused include the boosting of the domestic economy through supply side
measures (eg government investment on infrastructure projects) and demand side measures (eg increasing consumer demand through incentives for consumers to spend), unemployment and training.

The prime minister has indicated that the Mini- Budget will focus on saving jobs and helping businesses. The government has announced a number of measures to extend credit to businesses, but I am not sure businesses can get credit. Thus, it is very important that the funding schemes announced be implemented immediately so that businesses can get capital to continue their operations.

At the same time, the Mini-Budget should also include measures to prepare Malaysia for the future and to restructure the economy — for example measures to improve technology capabilities
and energy-efficient technologies.

Given a choice, would you opt to announce a stimulus package or a Mini-Budget? What advantages do either of these have?

As the package may require a substantial allocation, the government may have to go for a Mini-Budget.

There has been some views that the government should reform NEAC or create SPVs like Danaharta and Danamodal to help face the global crisis. What do you think?

The government needs a focused approach and a quick response and implementation of measures to overcome the economic slowdown. In the 1997-98 crisis, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad decided
to establish the NEAC. I was appointed executive director. It was a fulltime job. The exco met daily to monitor and make decisions. We formed a working group and met about 250 individuals and organisations, then came up with an Action Plan.

Today, the crisis is worse than 1997-98. It is global compared with 1997. The public, including the private sector, want to see a clear, quick and coordinated response to developments affecting Malaysia. Therefore, it is up to the government to decide what the best mechanism is to respond to the crisis.

What is important is that the public is confident that the government is responding quickly and effectively to the crisis. The government should restructure the existing response mechanism so
that it has a central response point. In my view, we don’t need to set up special vehicles such as Danaharta and Danamodal because this crisis is different from 1998. However, communicating to the public about government’s efforts to overcome the crisis and the state of the economy is essential.

Has the government given sufficient focus to overcome the nation’s economic problems?

There are many non-economic issues that are happening at the same time. I hope that while the government is attending to more non-financial-crisis matters, it is not distracted from focusing on economic matters and immediate needs. We had a similar situation in 1997-98. We knew which were the priorities.

I think the rakyat is fed up with too much politics that is happening today in both the government and the opposition. We should be concentrating on economic issues and put the nation first.

Should the higher Budget deficit be a bigger concern in efforts to keep the economy strong?

Under the present circumstances, the level of the Budget deficit should not be the main factor deciding on our response measures. What is important is to effectively deal with the economic contraction. However, in the medium term, we should go back to a prudent fiscal management.

What does one TRILLION dollars look like?

This one copied from a website.

Imagine trillion ringgits/dirhams/rupiahs/rupees look like..

All this talk about "stimulus packages" and "bailouts"...

A billion dollars...

A hundred billion dollars...

Eight hundred billion dollars...

One TRILLION dollars...

What does that look like? I mean, these various numbers are tossed around like so many doggie treats, so I thought I'd take Google Sketchup out for a test drive and try to get a sense of what exactly a trillion dollars looks like.

We'll start with a $100 dollar bill. Currently the largest U.S. denomination in general circulation. Most everyone has seen them, slighty fewer have owned them. Guaranteed to make friends wherever they go.

$100

A packet of one hundred $100 bills is less than 1/2" thick and contains $10,000. Fits in your pocket easily and is more than enough for week or two of shamefully decadent fun.

$10,000

Believe it or not, this next little pile is $1 million dollars (100 packets of $10,000). You could stuff that into a grocery bag and walk around with it.

$1,000,000 (one million dollars)

While a measly $1 million looked a little unimpressive, $100 million is a little more respectable. It fits neatly on a standard pallet...

$100,000,000 (one hundred million dollars)

And $1 BILLION dollars... now we're really getting somewhere...

$1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars)

Next we'll look at ONE TRILLION dollars. This is that number we've been hearing so much about. What is a trillion dollars? Well, it's a million million. It's a thousand billion. It's a one followed by 12 zeros.

You ready for this?

It's pretty surprising.

Go ahead...

Scroll down...

Ladies and gentlemen... I give you $1 trillion dollars...

$1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion dollars)

(And notice those pallets are double stacked.)

So the next time you hear someone toss around the phrase "trillion dollars"... that's what they're talking about.

Dubai and Legend of El Dorado

It was my most treasured gift, The World Book Encyclopaedia. As a child in 1992, I seemingly couldn’t wait for the Internet to arrive so I brought it forward. The world at my fingerprints, anything I wanted to know right there on my bookshelf.

I remember picking up Book E and turning to the entry on El Dorado. It read, the name of a fictitious kingdom of enormous wealth in the New World. Explorers, it said, searched for this kingdom, but never found it. It finally ended with a short sentence on how the term has become common for any legendary place of untold riches.

I recall that story as I read articles in the past few weeks by journalists who descended on Dubai from the West to report on the demise of this global trading hub reminding me of the Arabic saying, when the camel falls, the knives are out. Some harsh articles have been written including one by Germaine Greer, a journalist in Britain’s The Guardian who admittedly spent a precious four hours on an open tour bus and found my city to be “with neither charm nor character.”

At least, one might say, she had bothered to visit all when reading what Daniel Pipes had to write recently, “a Ponzi scheme among the nations ” he called us. Compare this with what Andy Ram, the Israeli tennis player and more importantly someone who actually spent some time in my country had to say to the Jerusalem Post: “It was an amazing experience, which I won’t forget for the rest of my life” adding that he had plans of returning next year. In fact, the paper noted that Ram didn’t have a bad word to say about his time in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab and Muslim state.

One might be consumed by all the negative coverage that Dubai has been receiving; a few of us might even fall victim to it. First of all, there is no denying a global financial crisis that is unlike anything witnessed since the 1930’s and naturally the more globalised a city is the more affected it would be; hence Dubai’s position.

Second, as a journalist I can safely say that in our industry, bad news is good news. Just look at Africa, the often-ignored continent that only warrants attention when there is a crisis to report.

In the Middle East, Dubai stands as a beacon of development, a city that refused to be dragged down by hopelessness that plagues its neighbourhood. For where there was once an endless expanse of sand lie thriving communities, ports, media and financial centres. A city that constantly reminds us even in the worst of times that peaceful coexistence is possible. Even at the height of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, citizens from both warring nations would continue to trade and socialise in Dubai. The same logic applies to Indians and Pakistanis, many of whom are colleagues at work and even life partners in marriage, setting a positive example for their compatriots back home.

For in Dubai, divisions fall and unity abounds. I come across Sunnis and Shias who otherwise reside in mutual suspicions in Iraq; Christian sects stand united where they fall divided in Lebanon; Jews and Arabs break down barriers where a hateful wall separates them in the Holy Land. The story of Dubai isn’t to be found on Mr. Pipes’ computer screen in Philadelphia, nor on a four-hour bus ride zooming across town in a hurry. It is the story of people from 180 nationalities, some of them faring better than others, some millionaires and some blue collar workers, neurosurgeons and nurses, architects and engineers, rich and poor, dark skinned and Caucasian, not just surviving, but thriving in harmony.

Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times about America that “at no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important. ”

I strongly believe that the same statement applies to Dubai. For if Dubai, the beacon of hope for millions in a most sensitive part of the world we call the Middle East, is jeered rather than cheered as it pulls itself together to stand up straight, facing the sun and its destiny, what hope is there for the rest of the region?I find it bewildering how a few short weeks after President Barack Obama was elected on the premise of hope after financial turbulence hit his country, these very same media outlets that endorsed him fail to see Dubai’s identical message of hope in a region that so desperately needs it.

My desire for more knowledge as a child about El Dorado was never fulfilled, and hopefully never will. A city of enormous wealth in the New World where fortunes are made and legends abound? I didn’t have to leave Dubai to find it. All I had to do was look out my window.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a distinguished Emirati businessman and Chairman of Young Arab Leaders - UAE chapter. He is also the founder of Barjeel Securities in Dubai. Reach him at sultan.alqassemi@gmail.com

In search of the perfect leader

If you read the write-up below, what would you rate our current leaders such as:-
- Mahathir
- Pak Lah
- Anwar Ibrahim
- Najib Razak
- TG Nik Aziz
- TG Hadi Awang
- Lim Kit Siang
- Karpal Singh

and the rest..

Here is the profile of three world leaders, who lived in the same period of history If possible, choose the best one using the following data:

Candidate A was associated with witch-doctors and often consulted astrologists. He had two mistresses. His wife was a Les****. He smoked a lot. He drank eight to ten martinis a day.

Candidate B never managed to hold down a job because of his arrogance. He slept the whole morning. He used opium at school, and was always considered a bad student. He drank a glass of brandy every morning.

Candidate C was decorated a hero. A vegetarian, he did not smoke. His discipline was exemplary. He occasionally drank a beer. He stayed with the same woman during his moments of glory and defeat.

And what was your answer?

Candidate A - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Candidate B - Winston Churchill

OR

Candidate C - Adolf Hitler.

So what then is leadership?

The encyclopedia defines it as an individual’s capacity to motivate others to seek the same objective. The bookstores are full of texts on this theme, and the leaders are normally portrayed in brilliant colors, with enviable qualities and supreme ideals. The leader is to society as the “master” is to spirituality. This, however, is not absolutely true (in either case).

Our big problem, especially in a world that is growing more and more fundamentalist, is not allowing people in prominent positions to commit human mistakes. We are always in search of the perfect ruler. We are always looking for a pastor to guide and help us find our way. The truth is that the great revolutions and the progress made by humanity were brought about by people just like us – the only difference being that they were able to make a key decision at a crucial moment.