As part of the government's efforts to make Malaysia a competitive and developed nation by 2020, new targets have been set to produce 50% skilled workers in various fields.

Human Resources Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abd Muttalib said the country currently has just 28% skilled workers - a figure which is targeted to increase to 33% next year.

"In 2020, the country is expected to have 13 million workers and about six million of them should be skilled workers in various fields," Bernama reported Ismail as saying during a convocation ceremony for trainees of the Malaysian Skills Certificate course.

When asked about the lack of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) school-leavers taking up skills training, he said only 10% of school students chose the vocational field, yet in developed countries like Australia and South Korea around 40% of the students opted for vocational or skills training.

"To be a developed nation, priority should be given to developing skills. So parents should not place importance only on academic achievements for their children's success," he said.

He also congratulated the efforts of the accredited skills training centres in producing skilled workers, with 1,200 training centres nationwide now offering courses in various fields like oil and gas, motor mechanics, automotive, hotel management, culinary, tailoring and welding.

Since the skills training programme was introduced in 1986, it had trained about 1.3 million people in various fields and the government had allocated RM330 million each year for the programme through the Skills Development Fund Corporation.

"But the amount is still insufficient to produce skilled workers in bigger numbers, and I fully support if the government could increase the allocation up to RM1 billion," he added.