Salary & Employment Outlook

Overview of employment conditions, skills in demand, sector trends and
salary benchmarks in Malaysia


Numbers at a glance

Malaysia has experienced a steady 2016, with bright spots observed in the fast expanding healthcare, technology and e-commerce sectors. What are employers’ hiring intentions for 2017?

Headcount increases


47% of employers surveyed are expected to recruit new hires

Hiring activity


60% of employers who plan to increase headcount say they are actively seeking mid-level employees

Salary increases


50% of Malaysia employers expect to increase salaries by ≤5% in the next 12 months

Talent attraction and retention initiatives


70% Career progression

61% Salary increases

47% Workplace flexibility

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)


94% say their organisations support D&I

Top 3 focus points for D&I programmes


47% Gender

40% Age

25% Minority ethnic groups

Malaysia overview

Most companies are expected to remain fairly optimistic in the next 12 months after a challenging 2016.

Most companies are expected to remain fairly optimistic in the next 12 months after a challenging 2016. Hiring activity will gradually pick up, with nearly one in two companies (47%) planning to increase headcount in 2017, mostly for key and replacement roles.

Conditions for growth are especially positive for technology companies in the areas of financial technology (fintech), app development, and e-commerce. More of such companies are relocating to Malaysia for its strategic location and low operating costs. This will likely continue this year.

On the hiring front, 60% of companies said they will be actively looking to hire mid- to high-level employees with digital skills, such as software programming, app development, and data analytics. Apart from start-ups, demand for such skills has become increasingly urgent as well for more traditional companies looking to engineer new technology functions.

In a talent-short market, this means competition for high-quality candidates will become even tougher in an already shallow pool. In the area of Big Data, for instance, companies are recruiting from places outside of Malaysia, such as in the United States, where there are more qualified candidates with the right set of skills and experience.

Companies in more traditional industries, including the oil and gas, manufacturing, property & construction, and banking industries, however, will remain cautious about hiring. Having experienced a greater impact from the global economic slowdown, they will be less likely to hire for new positions, unless it is for a key role, or to replace headcount.

However, the Malaysian shared services industry is likely to buck this trend in 2017. Malaysia continues to be a preferred destination for organisations looking to establish a cost-effective shared services or outsourcing centre within a country that boasts a diverse, well-educated and multilingual workforce.

With more organisations looking to migrate core functions such as finance and accounting, procurement and supply chain, human resources and other knowledge-based services to Malaysia, the number of shared services and outsourced centres will continue to increase, adding to some 350 shared service centres currently in operation within Malaysia.


Financial technology, the Internet of Things and Big Data are expected to be among this year's fastest-growing sectors. Many companies will be building in-house digital teams and some roles are expected to encompass the Asia Pacific or South East Asia region. Already, the government has announced plans to set up digital hubs for the start-up community in the country.

However, due to the relative newness of Malaysia's digital sector, firms will find it challenging to find candidates who have the experience and expertise required. This challenge is exacerbated by candidates who resign after an average of 6-12 months to pursue better opportunities with competitors, including those in Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

As a result, many employers (including well-known brand names) have had to increase salaries by 30% — more when it comes to senior-level hires — to attract the right talent.

Skill sets in demand include Google analytics, Big Data, data analytics, search engine marketing, social media marketing, e-commerce, Java (Android) and Swift (iOs).

Java developers, mobile developers, automation testers, digital marketers, e-commerce specialists, data scientists and product managers will be in demand.

In general, candidates switching between roles may expect salary increases of 20-35%.

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Engineering & Manufacturing

The pharmaceutical and medical devices markets are set for growth this year, due largely to the increased demand for healthcare products and services worldwide. Food and Beverage (F&B) manufacturing is expected to do well due to Malaysia's status as a Halal hub, attracting investment from large fast-moving consumer goods players.

More start-ups and greenfield projects are expected to be established this year due to tax rebates by the Malaysian government in the medical devices and food manufacturing sectors.

However, more electronics manufacturing and semiconductor factories may move out of Malaysia into lower-cost countries and streamline headcount during that process.

Skill sets in demand include automation engineering, as companies invest in process control systems and robotics engineering to streamline costs and prevent errors. Factories are expected to move from semi to fully-automated hubs in the near future.

Engineers with good analytical skills who are able to detect and avoid breakdowns before they happen (total productive maintenance (TPM)/reliability engineering) are expected to be well sought after. On that same note, professionals with Lean Six Sigma/continuous improvement will be in demand.

Due to a large number of international corporations setting up regional research and development (R&D) hubs in Malaysia, professionals skilled in clinical research, product development and lab trials will also be in demand.

Automation/instrumentation engineers, project and commissioning engineers, TPM maintenance engineers, and R&D managers.

In general, candidates moving between jobs may expect salary increases of 12-18%.

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Finance & Accounting

Growth will be seen across several sectors in 2017, namely aerospace, manufacturing, construction and engineering related to infrastructure. While the commodities market was slow in 2016, prices, especially for export commodities like cocoa, rubber and palm oil, are expected to bounce back as economic growth improves.

As e-commerce gains traction in the region, Malaysia's financial technology (fintech) industry has continued to develop and mature. Local regulators are beginning to impose tighter regulations on the sector, which will have an impact on companies in this space.

The slowdown of the country's oil and gas industry will also result in a fall in tax revenue, likely affecting businesses across all industries.

Over the next 12 months, the business climate in Malaysia will generally be challenging across some sectors. Budget cuts will be common in the industrial sector, and many large multinationals will likely consolidate their regional accounting functions into one, resulting in fewer commercial roles. In addition, emerging markets like Myanmar and Vietnam are demanding more skilled regional workers, and more Malaysians are leaving home to pursue these opportunities.

Industry 4.0, one of the Malaysian government's initiatives to support manufacturing automation, is expected to help boost the recovery of the country's manufacturing's sector. Additionally, more foreign investors are also willing to invest in Malaysia due to lower raw material costs, which subsequently translates into decreased operating costs.

Demand for tax and governance professionals is set to rise, due to the finance and accounting sector’s increasingly complex regulatory environment.

Start-ups will likely seek highly-driven new graduates, while established businesses will look for staff with experience in change management and process improvement. In governance, technical skills are still a must, but candidates must also possess soft skills such as a global mindset, persuasiveness and integrity.

Commercial finance managers, commercial FP&A (financial planning and analysis) specialists, credit controllers, accountants, financial controllers and FP&A analysts; roles in process improvement and system implementation; roles in internal audit, risk management and compliance; mid- to senior- level tax managerial roles will be in demand.

In this market, candidates can expect between 10 and 20% increments when switching roles. Candidates in tax-related roles can expect between 20 and 30%. Candidates with experience in financial planning & analysis, business partnering, cost-controlling and strategic planning – among others – are likely to be in demand.

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Human Resources

Human Resources (HR) professionals are expected to be in demand as the shared services and technology sectors continue to flourish as more companies move their regional hubs into Malaysia. The government is expected to continue promoting the country’s experienced talent pool and established expertise.

Due to globalisation, advanced technology, and connectivity, more companies are moving from traditional HR models to setting up centres of excellence (COE). This has increased the demand for HR skill sets such as business partnering, talent management, and the ability to work in a highly matrixed, fast-paced and ambiguous organisation.

As organisations realise the value of aligning HR processes and policies, in particular employee attraction and retention, with business goals, HR professionals now need to demonstrate strong business acumen and partnering skills as well as adaptability and flexibility.

As more companies restructure their work processes, candidates with expertise in change management and organisational transformation will also be in demand. There has also been a rise in demand for candidates with the ability to speak Mandarin as more foreign companies move their regional hubs into Asia.

HR business partners and HR generalists will be in demand.

In general, salary increments have also slowed down. Candidates used to receive increments of at least 25% when moving between roles as recent as two years back. However, such increments have decreased to 20% on average. Still, HR is still very much a talent-short market, especially when it comes to the skill sets highlighted above.

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The legal market in Malaysia will remain buoyant in 2017 due to shortages of available talent within the domestic market, in both private practice and in-house environments. Candidates who have regional exposure – particularly those with experience working in mature overseas markets – are in constant demand.

Multilingual candidates are also favoured for their ability to do cross-border work. In addition, compliance and regulatory skills continue to be in demand within the banking and financial services sectors as the country’s regulatory requirements continue to tighten.

Over the next 12 months, Malaysia will continue to experience an outflow of local talent. Malaysia is losing talented lawyers who are seeking work in mature markets such as Singapore, London, Sydney and Hong Kong.

Candidates with exposure to intellectual property and competition law are likely to be in demand, especially with technology and manufacturing firms. Those who have strong corporate finance exposure will also be sought after, due to an boost in corporate finance activities such as capital investment, mergers and acquisitions, insolvency as well as public company listings.

Head of legal, corporate secretary, intellectual property attorney, contract manager, junior lawyers – private practice and qualified lawyers returning from abroad will be in demand.

In this market, candidates who switch roles can expect to receive increments of between 15 and 20%.

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While Malaysia’s consumer retail sector is expected to remain unchanged from 2016, more consumers are expected to move their spending to online stores rather than brick-and-mortar shops. This has therefore created significant growth opportunities within the e-commerce sector. Firms are also cutting costs and introducing regional marketing roles based in Malaysia, as well as exploring other ways of going digital. Traditional marketers will need to learn how to adapt to market changes and develop their digital skills to get ahead.

Over the next 12 months, the employment market is likely to be more competitive, due to the Ringgit’s devaluation, rise in inflation and economic turbulence. More qualified candidates in the current talent pool, sought after for their adaptability and familiarity with Asian cultures, are moving to neighbouring countries, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and China for work.

Specialised skill sets in demand include shopper marketing, consumer insights, market research and digital marketing.

Store and retail managers; roles in research and insights; roles in brand management, shopper marketing and trade marketing with an emphasis on digital and e-commerce. Those who have digital skills – particularly in a FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) or retail context – have an edge.

In this market, candidates who switch roles can expect to receive between 15 and 25% increments.

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Procurement & Supply Chain

The market for shared services is likely to do well in 2017. In the last two years, a significant number of companies have set up shared services centres (SSCs) in Malaysia to leverage on well-educated, multilingual talent. While SSCs have traditionally offered information technology (IT) and finance services, an increasing number of SSCs are expanding into other functions, such as procurement and order management.

A booming e-commerce industry is also likely to boost the market for last-mile logistics. Goods are no longer delivered only to large retail outlets, but directly to consumers’ homes – and the race is on to find a solution for the problem of effectively covering the "last mile".

Over the next 12 months, commodity markets are likely to remain slow. This does not bode well for the hiring market as the sector is traditionally a major employer. In other sectors, factories are also closing and relocating to countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, which will adversely affect procurement and supply chain roles.

Roles in logistics, order management and procurement will be in demand. Those who are skilled in logistics, order management and procurement will have an advantage.

Candidates who switch roles can expect to receive 10 to 15% increments.

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Property & Construction

Malaysia’s property and construction sector is likely to remain slow and uncertain, due to weak consumer confidence in the property market. However, the total value of property transactions remains elevated despite the low volume of sales, as prices are currently at a record high.

The construction sector has received a boost from the government’s support of infrastructure projects such as the construction of high speed railways, highways and double track works.

Over the next 12 months, the hiring market looks to be challenging due to a talent shortages as well as a weakening ringgit. Malaysia continues to grapple with brain drain, and recruiting the right talent for niche technical roles will continue to be a challenge, especially for the construction and post-construction sectors.

With a record number of infrastructure projects commencing and new buildings nearing completion this year, the sector’s talent shortages will be even more significant as firms will need to hire staff in facilities management, leasing management and building maintenance.

Construction managers and directors, quantity surveyors and contract managers, leasing managers and directors, facilities managers and directors in malls and office buildings will be in demand.

Those with Chinese-language proficiency will be in high demand, due to strong sector investment from China. With continuing foreign direct investment from China, candidates with strong Chinese skills are in high demand in the property and construction sector. Candidates who have experience in leasing, centre and building management, and construction management, among others, will have an edge.

Candidates can expect between 10 and 20% in increments when switching roles.

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Businesses specialising in outsourced services and solution organisation are expected to perform well as the market moves towards streamlining costs amid an unstable economy. As growth in the information technology (IT), telecommunications and electronics sectors continues, the demand for talent with digital and Internet of Things (IoT) experience will continue.

With more companies moving their regional hubs to Malaysia, the country’s consumer market is expected to grow accordingly, offering local talent more regional opportunities. However, an increasing number of talent has been leaving the country for its neighbours like Singapore, China and Hong Kong, due to the downturn of the Malaysian economy and political climate.

While the e-commerce sector performed well last year, its growth is expected to stabilise this year. The number of sales positions across other services sectors such as banking, property and financial services are expected to be low and employers will hire only for business-critical roles.

Other skills in demand include experience in enterprise network, solution selling, business services, service-level agreements, trade marketing and regional distribution.

Business development managers (hunter roles), sales and marketing heads (spearheading digital and IoT transformation), business process outsourcing roles (business development, sales, inside sales, outbound sales, etc), trade marketing specialists and commercial regional sales heads will be in demand.

Professionals moving between jobs may expect average salary increases of 10 to 15%, down from the current 17 to 20%. Those moving within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector may expect increases of 10-15% due to budget constraints.

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Shared Services

As more companies look to streamline their backend operations, the demand for shared services centres (SSCs) is likely to grow significantly, in both the finance and procurement markets.

Over the next 12 months, competition for top talent will be more intense, resulting in higher salaries for roles which are in demand, such as jobs in migration management or foreign language-speaking roles. More SSCs are expected to be established in the region, providing more job opportunities for finance professionals, as well as individuals with foreign language skills.

Employers face potential hiring challenges as the demand for candidates outstrips supply, a problem made more complex by new SSCs recruiting experienced and skilled talent from their competitors as well. As a result, salary expectations have been driven up.

Candidates who are proficient in a foreign language such as Mandarin, Thai, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, as well as those with experience in finance migration and transition, will have an edge. In addition, those who are skilled in management reporting, Six Sigma and ERP (enterprise resource planning) will also be in demand.

Migration managers, R2R (record-to-report), P2P (procure-to-pay) and O2C (order-to-cash) functions, roles in management reporting and financial planning, as well as project management roles will be in demand.

Candidates who switch jobs can command increments of between 15 and 25%, depending on their seniority. Those with niche skill sets can expect to receive between 25 and 30% or more.

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The consumer, e-commerce, shared services and technology sectors (with a focus on testing and development) are likely to do well in 2017. This is due in part to Malaysia’s positioning as an information technology (IT) hub in Asia, as well as the expansion of Big Data.

Over the next 12 months, numerous multinationals will be seeking candidates for IT security functions such as security specialists with cloud knowledge.

With the increasing sophistication of cyberattacks, cyber security professionals will be sought after. However, Malaysia remains a talent short market for such professionals. Companies may have to bring in such expertise internationally to build up the talent pool.

The market continues to be candidate-strapped. There will likely be a gap between candidates’ skills and the salaries they command, as employers compete to attract or retain staff.

Candidates with skills such as cloud and distributed computing, statistical analysis and data mining, web architecture, and user interface design – among others – are likely to be highly sought after.

IT security, business intelligence specialists, data analytics specialists, web developers, mobile developers, network engineers, storage engineers, regional IT senior management, regional or global services support, data warehousing/management and IOT experts will be in demand.

In this market, candidates can expect to receive between 10 and 20% in increments when switching to a lateral role, and 15 to 25% when they move up the ranks. Some candidates will command up to 30% if they are skilled in particularly niche areas.

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Asia trends