LETTER | Recently, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was quoted to have said the revised Budget 2023 of the unity government will be focusing on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as the green and digital economy.
Now that you have announced that your government will prioritise the growth and sustainability of SMEs in the country, you will, very soon, be hearing or learning of companies that are under-the-radar makers of a range of industrial products in Malaysia.
It is these companies that silently are making up a bulk of the SMEs sector in the country.
Businesses that don’t depend much on assistance from the government - not because they did not seek assistance, but because they know that any such attempt will be an exercise in futility. These companies are overlooked due to the ‘exclusiveness’ practised by the civil service and the past successive governments.
In fact, a sizeable portion of these SMEs are just beginning their best years, and they have the best potential to reinvigorate manufacturing - sustainably and inclusively - in the country, going forward.
SMEs are the ones that will drive a lot of innovations, and therefore, job creation.
Ultimately, these companies are going to be critical in creating a more inclusive economy in the country.
Successively, for the last 30 years, they have not been well understood, not well appreciated and there is an apparent lack of awareness of the immense value they have brought to our country, the people and the communities they operate in.
The majority of them have this feeling of being the economy of yesterday.
Hopefully, with this commitment from the PM, the moods of SMEs in this country will now shift to optimism and better possibilities.
SMEs in the country are really the heartbeat of this country’s economy.
A great, vibrant sector
It is a great, vibrant sector that creates a lot of jobs and a lot of livelihoods.
Every one of them is an unsung hero on their own merits, on the value they have created for the ecosystem and for their customers, locally and overseas.
People always talk about IT companies that are known for innovation, and great at innovation with software and technology.
On the other side, SMEs are also an equally great set of companies that are great at innovation, that are manufacturing-oriented, yet no one associated innovation with this set of companies.
Even though they make real products that affect people’s real livelihoods, no one talked about them.
Everyone associates small and medium companies with the technologies and business models and strategies of yesteryears, unlike IT companies that can have a meteoric rise and a meteoric fall.
SMEs are very resilient which, is the greatness of them.
Already, without much help and being ignored by the government for long, the SMEs have been flourishing on their own.
The SMEs in this country work hard for their money.
Every time they achieved an improvement, be it in securing a large customer or achieving efficiencies in their processes, it is because they have driven a true performance improvement, versus just getting added value.
The toughest part of realising your aspiration will be addressing the lack of awareness among the civil service around these SMEs.
They are all around the country, but yet very few, more so the civil service, actually know them.
SMEs don’t make the covers of the business weekly or news blogs, or industry awards.
Over a period of time, they have a talent deficit as people may not want to work there.
If the unity government is sincere and will really prioritise SMEs in the next phase of growth for the country, the government can play the role of being the enabler by investing in infrastructure, investing in people, and finding a way to drive a closer connection between these SMEs and the places where talent is available, like vocational and technical colleges.
The government can also help to accelerate the growth of these SMEs. Help them to scale up.
And as the SMEs scale, it will drive job creation, innovation and exports.
It will drive an amplification effect, where it will create jobs in adjacent industries, and it will help local communities thrive.
The government can work with public policy experts to focus on the talent gap between supply and demand and how to close that gap in the coming years, thus ensuring that there is a flow of talent, a flow of innovation and a continued focus on enabling these companies to be successful.
Hopefully, along the way, the economy becomes more diverse and inclusive as the old image of manufacturing around the factories as being greasy and dirty is slowly extinguished from the minds of the people.
Now that Anwar has identified SMEs as one of the priority focus areas, please act on them urgently.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.