Can Staffing Industry in Malaysia Tap Life Sciences Opportunities?


Life sciences industry is not a major focus area for Malaysian recruitment firms yet. Business models of most of the staffing and recruitment companies still revolve around the human resources needed for IT, finance, and commodity manufacturing. Though there is a surge in life sciences projects, I guess recruitment firms are still in the ‘wait and watch’ phase when it comes to life sciences opportunities in, pharmaceuticals and related sectors.

For David Ho Sue San, Managing Director of Hovid, carrying on the legacy of the founder and his father Dr Ho Kai Cheong comes naturally. Hovid is one of the oldest pharmaceutical companies and the largest generic drug exporter in Malaysia. Ho’s expansion plans to boost tablets and pills production by 30% with the new production facility, besides trying to find a cure for stroke, mean a huge investment in terms of R&D and talent acquisition.

Getting US FDA approval for tocotrienol- a vitamin E compound- would let Ho market the drug as a potential cure for stroke. However, Hovid will be dealing with a major challenge of developing a highly skilled workforce that is well-versed with regulatory approvals. Besides, finding the right knowledge workforce to conduct clinical trials and create consumer awareness are likely to be additional challenges for the company since Hovid is based in Malaysia.

A recent survey conducted by AcuBiz Consulting assessed the emerging investments and recruitment trends in Malaysia’s life sciences and related industries.

The study indicates a high demand for professionals with unique skill sets. The demand is particularly high for highly skilled scientists and engineers well-versed with regulatory approvals. Professionals with such talents are seldom available locally, which is limiting the industry growth significantly.

Expatriate Recruitment as Alternative Option to Meet the Demand

The talent shortage is nothing new for the Malaysia’s life sciences industry. Since the implementation of Malaysia’s Biotechnology policy in 2005, companies have been experimenting various strategies to cope with the shortage of technical and techno-commercial human capital issues. Even leading multinational companies are not immune to the challenges of hiring and retaining skilled manpower. For instance, Pfizer Malaysia’s director of HR, Shazmi Ali, admits that skills shortage and talent retention are the biggest issues for the company.

One of the major factors for the country is the reluctance of youth to major in science subjects. Lack of awareness about job prospects could be one of the reasons that forces students to shy away from science and mathematics majors. Unfortunately, this impacts the growth of a critical mass of science professionals in the country.

Key areas facing acute shortage include professionals who can independently handle R&D, QC, regulatory, and biopharma production activities and achieve the targets of their employers. The number of techno-commercial professionals who can absorb these complex concepts and tap global opportunities through effective execution of business development and financial deals is also limited.

Another challenge is the increasing complexity of skill sets that are becoming essential to remain competitive in the industry. The emerging new technologies and Artificial Intelligence innovations in healthcare and biotech add to the existing challenges and call for a specialized technical workforce with integrated skills.

Companies are trying various options to fix these issues and move forward to meet their targets. Most of the firms are hiring professionals from abroad with an intent to achieve knowledge transfer in a period of 2-4 years. However, such targets seem to be very ambitious as knowledge transfer is highly challenging in the absence of young workforce capable of absorbing the skills and executing the actions effectively.

Life Sciences Opportunities: Recruitment Firms Reluctant or Blind?

Malaysia’s friendly business environment is attracting new investments in pharma, life sciences, and medical devices sectors. This is creating niche job roles in these industries, which may need hiring professionals from abroad to meet the demands.

Most of the staffing and recruitment firms hesitate to enter the life sciences sector due to lack of awareness of the emerging demand or due to lack of internal capabilities to identify the unique skill sets demanded by these industries. This is true even for multinational staffing and recruitment companies.

Hiring staff capable of matching demand and supply of life sciences skill sets is not a priority for many recruitment firms yet. Since educating recruitment consultants on the skill sets needed is challenging, some industry players engage consultancy firms in India, while some others opt for hiring themselves through employee references. Some are exploring options to work with local academic institutions- mainly for entry-level positions.

However, the trend is slowly changing. Occasional big contracts are signed by multinational recruitment firms as they see the rising opportunities. A typical example could be the recent investment by Bostion Scientific in Penang that is expected to employ 400 scientists and engineers in the facility, which is expected to serve as one of their strategic manufacturing centres in the world for the company.

In the pharmaceutical sector also, the recruitment firms will be able to seize emerging opportunities with a focused business strategy and early movers may benefit by showcasing success stories to generate more businesses. This could be particularly useful for boutique recruitment companies as a business model. Demonstrating their capabilities on these niche skill demands could offer them a new field with less competition to establish fast.

For more insights on these emerging trends in Malaysia’s life sciences sectors, AcuBiz can be contacted by email (

Syamala AriyanchiraBy Syamala Ariyanchira

October 15, 2017

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