AS we step into the new year of 2024, let's re-examine the landscape of engineering in Malaysia with a fresh perspective. Engineering stands as the cornerstone of progress, propelling innovation and sculpting a sustainable future. Yet, within the Malaysian context, an enigmatic discrepancy emerges between the abundance of engineering graduates and the relatively lower number who opt for professional registration. Thus, a crucial need arises to dissect the factors underpinning this divergence and to put forth viable solutions that can strengthen Malaysia's engineering domain.

Discrepancy in Numbers: A Statistical Enigma

The field of engineering in Malaysia is regulated by the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM). Similar to the roles of other professional bodies, BEM serves as the regulatory authority for the engineering profession in Malaysia. It is responsible for supervising the registration and licensing of engineers, ensuring compliance with essential qualifications, and upholding professional standards within the industry.

As per the records from BEM, there are presently around 205,500 engineers who maintain official registration with the board. These individuals constitute the active pool of engineers who have continuously been registering with BEM since its establishment in the 1970s. Within this pool, approximately 8% hold the status of Professional Engineers, which includes those with a Practising Certificate, while the remaining 92% are Graduate Engineers (see Figure 1). In contrast, Public Higher Education Institutions alone have generated over 200,000 engineering graduates within a mere decade, spanning from 2013 to 2022 (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). When factoring in the engineering graduates from Private Higher Education Institutions, the overall count of engineering graduates would undoubtedly be higher. This raises a critical question: What factors contribute to the low conversion ratio from graduates to registered professionals? This prompts essential inquiries regarding the perceived worth of engineering as a profession and calls for a thorough investigation into the factors contributing to this phenomenon.

Legal Compliance and Awareness

In line with the Registration of Engineers Act 1967 (Revised 2015), it is obligatory for university graduates to register as Graduate Engineers if they intend to pursue employment in that capacity. However, there appears to be a lack of awareness among both employers and students regarding this requirement. Consequently, there is a crucial need to reintroduce targeted awareness campaigns that emphasize the necessity and significance of BEM registration for professional practice. It is essential to underscore that individuals should not be employed as engineers or undertake engineering responsibilities without being duly registered with BEM. A critical examination is required to assess how many individuals designated as engineers are operating without BEM registration. While I don't advocate for immediate penalties, even though non-compliance is a breach of legal requirements, I strongly emphasize the need for a well-managed transition. This ensures that relevant stakeholders are afforded a reasonable timeframe to address the issue appropriately.

Monitoring BEM Registration

In my capacity as an Industry Advisory Panel member for engineering degrees at various institutions, I am encouraged by the high percentage of graduate employability. While this is a noteworthy key performance indicator, I believe institutions should also monitor the registration status of their graduates with BEM. If the registration rate with BEM is low, institutions should investigate the root causes. Are graduates feeling inadequately prepared for an engineering career, leading them to pursue alternative paths? Or are some students enrolling in engineering studies primarily to obtain a widely recognized degree, with no intention of pursuing an engineering career from the outset? Perhaps the allure of printing "Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)" on their business card may instil a sense of pride, even if they are not actively engaged in engineering professions. Thorough investigation is warranted to answer these critical questions, ensuring that institutions continue to produce highly competent engineering graduates and allocate their resources effectively to the appropriate target group of students.

Revisiting Entry Criteria

Dealing with the challenge of youths enrolling in engineering degrees without a genuine intention to pursue a career in the field is crucial. This situation not only creates a misleading impression that the country has a substantial number of engineering graduates, when in reality, many lack interest in pursuing engineering professions. Additionally, it poses the risk of preventing genuinely interested youths from pursuing their preferred courses, particularly in Public Higher Education Institutions where seats for engineering degrees are limited. To address this concern, the government could consider revising the entry criteria for engineering degrees, potentially incorporating interviews as part of the admission process to ensure a more accurate assessment of students' genuine interest and commitment to the field.

Cultivating Commitment in Engineering

To propel Malaysia towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for a sustainable future, an increased number of engineers is imperative. The current ratio of engineers to the country's population stands at 1:170, significantly lagging behind developed nations like Germany and France, which boast a ratio of 1:100. However, the mere acceptance of elevated intake and graduation figures, without addressing the genuine pursuit of engineering professions, risks fostering complacency and misleading interpretations. Closing the gap between engineering graduates and registered professionals necessitates a comprehensive strategy. By addressing issues related to awareness, initial intentions, and entry requirements for engineering programs, Malaysia has the potential to nurture a more resilient and dedicated engineering community. This, in turn, positions the nation to make substantial advancements towards attaining its sustainable development goals.

Figure 1: Total registered engineers with BEM as of November 30, 2023 - Source: BEM

Figure 2: Total engineering graduates from Public Higher Education Institutions between 2013 and 2022. - Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia

Figure 3: Detailed distribution of engineering graduates from Public Higher Education Institutions spanning 2013 to 2022. - Source: Department of Statistics Malaysia

Eur Ing Hong Wai Onn, 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”.

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.