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TVET grads will expedite automation of palm oil sector, says expert

PETALING JAYA: An industry expert has lauded a proposal by the plantation and commodities ministry to include palm oil harvesting in technical and vocational education training (TVET) programmes currently on offer.

Hong Wai Onn, a fellow at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said the move would help address critical labour shortages experienced in the sector.

He said TVET graduates would be best-placed to operate and maintain machines effectively and efficiently if the programme’s syllabus offers a hands-on and practical approach which students can apply when working in the industry.

“Other training programmes, for example, academic training, often focus more on theoretical knowledge, which I think is equally critical to the country. But that might not always align with the specific needs of the industry,” he told FMT.

The initiative to integrate palm oil harvesting into TVET programmes was announced by plantation and commodities minister Johari Ghani last month.

Johari said the move would address the shortage of harvesters in oil palm estates, which has cost the sector billions of ringgit.

Hong said the country’s palm oil harvesting industry is still in the early stages of its journey towards automation.

“TVET-trained personnel will play a crucial role. As machines take over more labour-intensive work, TVET graduates would possess the right expertise to operate (and maintain) them effectively and efficiently,” he said.

The industry, which presently relies heavily on foreign workers who make up 70% of the workforce, was hit by a severe labour crunch during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In January last year, deputy prime minister Fadillah Yusof revealed that the palm oil sector was suffering an acute shortage of 63,000 foreign workers.

Hong said the labour shortage severely affected yield and, in 2022, resulted in the country losing an estimated RM20 billion in revenue.

“That emphasises the need to get the skilled workers on track as soon as possible,” he said.

Hong believes Johari’s decision to allow the recruitment of foreign workers aligns well with the urgent demand for labour across the industry.

“We need a few more years to produce TVET graduates. Allowing the palm oil sector to bring in the foreign workers would immediately bridge the gap,” he said.

Putrajaya recently agreed to allow foreign workers to be brought in for the plantation sector after a survey revealed that an estimated 40,000 workers were needed to work in estates.

Source : FMT 

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