Friday 24 May 2024
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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on April 8, 2024 - April 14, 2024

In our dynamic industrial environment, engineers and technologists play pivotal roles in driving innovation, fostering economic growth and advancing societal well-being through their creative solutions that shape our nation. With approximately 210,000 engineers registered with the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM) and 70,000 technologists with the Malaysia Board of Technologists (MBOT) (see Figures 1 and 2), their contributions remain invaluable. However, despite their significance, engineers and technologists in Malaysia encounter notable challenges concerning recognition, compensation and professional status. This juncture necessitates a thorough reassessment of these issues and the development of strategic measures to address them.

Challenges faced by engineers and technologists

Engineers and technologists bear responsibilities that directly impact public well-being, from designing and maintaining safe infrastructure to creating innovative technologies. Surprisingly, many job postings for engineers and technologists do not emphasise the necessity of being registered with BEM or MBOT. This practice undermines the credibility of the professions and jeopardises public safety.

Experienced engineers and technologists encounter a significant obstacle in terms of income inequality. Despite investing years in education and perfecting their skills, many find themselves earning less compared with professionals in different domains. For instance, people are willing to pay more for legal services because their freedom or assets are on the line, and they value the expertise that doctors bring to safeguard their health. In contrast, the roles of engineers and technologists might be seen as less essential until accidents or failures happen. This public perception can lead to the underestimation of their work and subsequently affect their compensation.

A noticeable trend is emerging within organisations, revealing a lack of engineers and technologists in senior leadership positions, primarily attributed to their perceived lack of business or financial knowledge. This often leaves engineers and technologists feeling undervalued and regretful for not pursuing degrees in business or accounting. Moreover, the absence of engineers or technologists in top roles can inadvertently reinforce public misconceptions about the contributions of these professions. This perception gap further complicates the challenges faced by engineers and technologists in gaining recognition for their valuable contributions across various industries.

To address these challenges, relevant stakeholders need to unite and advocate for change while implementing strategic measures. The following are some suggested solutions.

Enhanced awareness and recognition

Ensuring the effective enforcement of the Registration of Engineers Act 1967 and the Technologists and Technicians Act 2015 (Act 768) is crucial to maintaining the professional integrity and competence of engineers and technologists. A robust and systematic approach to enforcement can involve several key strategies. Firstly, both BEM and MBOT should collaborate with educational institutions to ensure that students and graduates are well-informed about the mandatory registration requirements and the advantages of obtaining professional recognition. Secondly, BEM and MBOT should establish strong partnerships with industry stakeholders, advocating for a culture that prioritises the hiring of duly registered engineers and technologists.

To reinforce this commitment, it is essential to cease labelling individuals as engineers or technologists if they are not registered with BEM or MBOT. Moreover, to ensure ongoing compliance, the implementation of proactive monitoring mechanisms and rigorous audits can identify instances of non-compliance and trigger corrective actions promptly. Through effective educational campaigns, industry partnerships and vigilant oversight, BEM and MBOT can promote compliance, boosting the status and integrity of registered engineers and technologists.

Strengthening responsibilities for public safety

In advocating for the advancement of the engineering and technology professions, it is crucial to reassess and enforce the responsibilities of signatories and individuals submitting engineering documents. Currently, a significant portion of those responsible for submissions come from the construction industry. However, the evolving landscape necessitates a comprehensive approach that encompasses all fields to ensure public safety. This consideration should extend beyond just the construction phase to include various aspects, such as operational processes within manufacturing plants. Currently, there is no approval process for critical activities like modifications to piping systems within industrial facilities. This raises important questions regarding accountability for the safety of both the plant and its processes.

Furthermore, it is essential to emphasise the endorsement of product commissioning by technologists before implementation to ensure the safety of workers. While the legal framework exists through legislative Act 768, the responsibility for enforcing these measures falls on MBOT. Just as companies are required to have individuals responsible for financial and taxation matters, a similar approach should be adopted for engineering and technology concerns, given the comparable importance of public safety.

Advocating for fair remuneration and recognition

BEM and MBOT can join forces with industry associations and employers to vigorously support fair compensation for engineers and technologists. A vital element of this initiative involves aligning salary structures with the level of responsibilities shouldered by these professionals. The requirement for companies to exclusively hire BEM and MBOT registrants naturally establishes a connection between salary levels and the calibre of employees.

Concurrently, in the ongoing global drive for gender diversity in senior leadership roles, it is worth contemplating extending a similar advocacy for engineers and technologists to ascend to senior management positions. This strategic alignment can have a particularly substantial impact in the current era of environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities. The unique combination of technical proficiency and problem-solving acumen that engineers and technologists bring to the table positions them to drive progress not only in areas like safety, health and environmental impact but also in technological excellence and the broader framework of ESG considerations. By urging companies to recognise the strategic importance of engineers and technologists in senior leadership roles, BEM and MBOT can help create an environment where these professionals receive due recognition and compensation for their pivotal contributions.

Strengthened professional development

Similar to other esteemed professions, engineers’ and technologists’ advancement hinges on their unwavering commitment to continuous professional development. However, this journey must not solely focus on refining technical expertise. As previously highlighted, the existing gap in business acumen underscores the pivotal role of mastering skills that extend beyond the traditional technical domain. In response, engineers and technologists should view this moment as an opportunity for personal growth, actively seeking ways to enrich their understanding of business intricacies and operational dynamics.

Considering the evolving demands of the contemporary landscape, a strategic proposal arises wherein BEM and MBOT could contemplate refining the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme. This proposed adaptation could emphasise not only the enhancement of technical proficiencies but also the proportional development of soft skills. Under this approach, engineers and technologists would be encouraged to engage in comprehensive skill development, nurturing both their technical expertise and their ability for effective communication, leadership and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Transformation is needed to secure the future of engineers and technologists

The recognition and prosperity of engineers and technologists are vital to Malaysia’s journey towards becoming a developed and innovative nation. BEM and MBOT, alongside industry stakeholders and government, must collaborate to elevate their status and income. Failing to address these concerns now could lead to the continued loss of valuable talent from these fields. It is high time to acknowledge the crucial role engineers and technologists play in shaping Malaysia’s future and to ensure they receive the respect, compensation and recognition they rightfully deserve.


Hong Wai Onn is a chartered chemical engineer and a fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is also the author of A Chemical Engineer in the Palm Oil Milling Industry.

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