The upper echelons of influence in Sarawak’s government, educational institutions and private sector all unanimously chime, declaring, at once, this is the greatest challenge to the state’s targeted developmental trajectory – human capital.
In the sparsely populated Bornean state, minds that move advanced machinery, conceptualise new marketing strategies and spread knowledge of hitherto under-prioritised fields of study are, admittedly, lacking.
It is a void that all at once breeds an information gap and misunderstanding that dramatises the reality of some of Sarawak’s largest and most controversial projects.
Fresh workers intent to grow with purpose in Sarawak’s economy are such a vital cog in the machines that propel our lives forward, scientifically and articulately and scientifically informs us, that we tend to overlook them – only decrying the irritation their absence begets – often missing the broader picture.
“Human capital is as fundamental as energy; it’s an important component of production,” Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Abang Abdul Karim Tun Abang Openg told Inside Investor.
“With spirit are needed and it’s a big challenge.”
Let us not cower under rocks just yet. Sarawak has been fortunate enough to attract credible international institutions of higher education to mold minds, and not just in the fields of philosophy, but in disciplines that will provide the graduate output required to send much-needed jolts into small and medium enterprises.
Other sectors include energy-intensive industries and innovative research, the latter of which is just coming into fruition, indicating that Sarawak may be crossing a goal post in its ambitions to fill its current dearth.
In December 2012, the Sarawak Research Centre for Sustainable Technologies opened its doors, the first of a planned four to five research centres that the Sarawak campus of the Australian university has slated to open over the next seven years.
Substantial funding that will facilitate travel for students and the university’s industry experts to conduct on-site research and laboratory studies is already coming in. RM20 million has been allocated to Swinburne Sarawak over the next seven years through the government-sponsored Research Investment Fund.
In addition, Swinburne Australia will donate a further RM20 million to conduct research activities, run by various departments at the university that apply student participation at the PhD and master degree level.
In 2011, Swinburne began conducting one major ongoing project with Hock Seng Lee, which supplied the university with RM100,000 in funding, while others are being cemented into the pipeline.
“Through Swinburne, a research project, titled Assessment and Prediction of Jacking Forces due to Marco-Tunnelling, is being conducted to examine the sustainability of tunnels in the (Kuching Waste Water Management System) being conducted by Hock Seng Lee and the impact of construction on surrounding buildings,” Dr Wallace Shung Hui, director of Research and Consultancy at Swinburne told Inside Investor.
Swinburne is also contributing to the study of hydroelectric dams, a controversial yet integral source of energy in Sarawak, and lifeblood to the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), a developmental vision that is very much in great demand of bright minds to fulfill its ultimate ambitions.
By the end of April, Swinburne expects a proposal to conduct research with hydroelectric dams operated by Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) to be approved.
“We have been looking to study the sustainability of hydro-dams, in which our role would be to study what happens before, during and after construction, namely with the Baram and Baleh projects. This projects would be guided by testing geomorphology, the study of the effects on soil, ” Dr Wallace said.
“Much to their credit, SEB wants to set a baseline to record the effects on the environment, and we will also be looking into the water quality,” he added.
A testament to the reality that Sarawak faces concerning grooming adequate employees, as expressed through research projects used to guide them, Swinburne noted that, while these efforts represented the cusp of something greater, a quantum leap could not be taken in a day.
Excluded from research of hydroelectric facilities will be the study of effects on aquatic life because – simply put – the expertise is just not available.
With momentum to build up, especially in Kuching, Bintulu and Miri, over the coming years, Sarawak has the capacity to inject greater amounts of costly foreign talent into new industries, in turn attracting Sarawakians to return.
Domestically, research initiatives may just have hit a watershed moment with grooming Sarawaks’s future workforce. With all the challenges that are present, at least this is a good start.