Lucrative prospects in shared services and outsourcing

If you are a fresh graduate on the lookout for a career with a promising future or even if you are a seasoned worker who desires a change in career direction, you might want to consider the shared services and outsourcing (SSO) industry.

According to the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), workers within this industry currently earn an average of RM5,000 per month. In addition, job applicants now have a wide range of employers to choose from, with around 300 companies operating in the SSO field locally.

Furthermore, most roles in SSO can be classified as “non-degree sensitive careers,” according to Ng Wan Peng, chief operating officer at MDeC. So even if your prior work experiences are in another discipline, you still stand a good chance of building a career in this field.

“These are very high paying jobs. In terms of pay per productivity, we are actually ranked number six in the world. We believe we can continue to grow this industry in Malaysia because it has a very attractive value proposition,” she says.

Competitive advantage

Ng adds that the industry had successfully attracted many multinational firms to set up operations locally, with 55 additional companies having done so in 2013 alone.

She believes that one of the main reasons that the SSO industry is thriving is because of the adaptable nature of Malaysians which enables them to interact well with their foreign counterparts.

“Our advantage is our culture. Our people are able to work with any nationality as they’re very friendly and the (multi-racial) environment they are brought up in helps them to understand others better,” Ng says.

Besides that, she also says that many Malaysians can converse well in several Asian languages and regards this skill as a key distinguishing factor which sets Malaysia apart from many other contenders within the region.

“The country has a large supply of IT expertise and multilingual talent,” says Low Kian Tick, resource deployment and development leader at IBM Malaysia Sdn Bhd. “IBM has 21 shared service organisations in the country that supports global operations in 11 languages including Japanese, Korean, Spanish and more. Malaysia also has 92% penetration rate for English.”

In his opinion, the local IT industry has matured over recent years, with many workers already possessing in-depth knowledge in fields such as banking and finance, energy, logistics and manufacturing.

However, Low sees a need for further expansion in the available SSO talent pool.

“Our challenge lies in hiring people with specific technical skill sets, in the numbers that we require. The situation is compounded by the lack of a capable middle tier as talent is either very senior or junior,” he says.

Viable career

MDeC and Talent Corporation Malaysia Berhad (TalentCorp) are working together to overcome these challenges. One of the ways they are doing so is through efforts to raise awareness amongst graduates about the benefits of making SSO their career of choice.

“For some reason, our youth don’t seem to be aware and don’t know the potential (of the SSO industry),” says Ng. “We think we can tap into this local talent pool of 190,000 diploma and degree holders that are produced every year.”

“We do a lot of programs together with MDeC to bridge the gaps in the competency levels of the graduates after they have completed their degree,” explains Siti Norliza Mohd Sahar, head of graduate employability, Malaysian talent development at TalentCorp.

“The focus for TalentCorp right now is more for those who are currently doing their first degree.”

To start off, the emphasis is on promoting accounting and finance jobs, but in the future, this initiative would extend to other SSO jobs as well.

Companies like Shell stimulate interest for the career by inviting final year students to visit the office so that they will have opportunities to interact with working professionals in SSO.

“There’s nothing like seeing people do the job and (observing) the environment they work in,” says Mabal Tan, director at Shell Business Service Centre Sdn Bhd. “We hope that this will change the mindset of the young people in the coming years.”

“ Young people look for fast growth path and clarity in their career as they start their work life. To retain the talent in the industry, we continue to provide career development and job opportunities within our organisation,” says Low from IBM.

The message that IBM sends across to its employees, especially its younger, more ambitious members, is that it isn’t necessary to leave the company if they want to change jobs.

Expanding possibilities

In general, Low advises youth to keep an open mind with regards to the job opportunities that are available in the SSO industry.

“Young professionals can leverage the momentum created by the growing SSO industry by taking on new challenges beyond what they had studied in university,” he says. “For example, we find that those individuals who succeed in driving fulfilling careers demonstrate the required depth in their specialisation, but also have a breadth of general knowledge in other business subjects or soft skills.”

Since those who work in SSO tend to deal with external parties very frequently, having good communication skills is crucial.

“I think it’s very important especially in SSO where most of your communication is virtual and you’re dealing with people overseas over the phone. You need to be very clear in how you express your thoughts.

The technical knowledge we can develop in people. It’s the leadership skills and the ability to innovate that we are looking for,” says Tan from Shell.

Meanwhile, Ng from MDeC feels that a job applicant’s attitude towards SSO work is just as important. “Your attitude has to be right. I think all organisations when they hire someone, they look at that; whether you can fit into the culture,” she says.

Presently, Siti from TalentCorp says she is pleased at the recent response that she has seen from local universities towards the idea of SSO as a career option for graduates.

“I think the traction we’re getting from the universities is very good. Universities are trying to get more information. They have opened their doors for industry players to come in and have started having direct interaction with the students. I find this really positive,” she says.

Looking ahead, Ng from MDeC expects to see job involving data as well as financial analysis and engineering growing in demand within the SSO industry.

“These are things we need to develop more of,” she says.

This article originally appeared on The Star Online on 28 January 2014