By Associate Professor Dr Brian C. Imrie, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Engagement)
The international spread of COVID-19 represents one of the biggest threats to the global economy since the 2008 financial crisis. Dr. Tan Consilz, an economist within the UOW Malaysia KDU School of Business, commented that “with 196 countries and territories now having reported COVID-19, the pandemic has shocked the Malaysian economy with substantial drops reported in key sectors. Indeed, according to The Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) Malaysia’s real GDP may decrease by as much as 6.9%, relative to the 2020 baseline. It is likely that this will be a particularly challenging period for the sustainability of manufacturing. Despite the manufacturing sector continuing to run production, their future sustainability is at stake as orders have started to decline.”
Over the past few decades, Malaysia has been focusing on diversifying our economy largely by attracting foreign direct investments (FDI) into the manufacturing sector. The long-term economic plan being to transform the manufacturing sector from the assembly of imported components to the design and production of original products for export. While there has certainly been knowledge transfer accompanying these FDI we remain predominantly a component manufacturer for international brands. The current global pandemic is yet another wake up call to be more agile and focus upon creating innovative products and services for future demand to ensure we don’t become trapped as a middle-income nation. This requires the development of human capital who are innovative as well as highly technically competent. However, the Malaysian higher education system provides few students the opportunity to develop the complex problem solving and creative thinking skills that Malaysia so desperately needs to move up the supply chain.
Reinforcing this need for transformation, particularly in STEM education, Dr. Yeap Gik Hong, Head of School of Engineering, Computing & Built Environment, UOW Malaysia KDU highlighted that “to future-proof careers, there are a few must-have skills that graduates need to acquire – complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation”. He noted further that these are attributes sorely lacking amongst graduates within Malaysia. To nurture problem solving and innovative thinking at UOW Malaysia KDU, selected engineering programs have adopted a method called TRIZ, or Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. This is a Russian methodology which addresses problem solving in a systematic and innovative manner. TRIZ is recognized by many leading global corporations as one of the most powerful methods for driving innovation and is embraced by companies such as Samsung, Intel and many other global leaders in Internet of Things (IoT), screen technology, television production, batteries, and chip design. Indeed, “TRIZ has been adopted by Samsung to imagine the products of the future and is utilised for product mapping, which keeps them ahead of the competition” Dr Yeap added.
Evidence of problem-solving thinking being put to good use can be seen in a recent initiative by UOW Malaysia KDU engineering alumni who have addressed the shortage of protective equipment by front line medical staff by producing face protectors printed using a design they created on 3-D printers.
While there are undoubtedly many ways to create the talent required to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in a post-COVID 19 economy, a focus upon producing graduates who are able to quickly analyse the fundamentals of a problem, and develop innovative solutions will allow our work-force to both develop innovative products ahead of the curve and manage future economic shocks in an agile manner.