CREST turns One, sharper focus for its second year


Industry-led body with vision to be a globally renown centre for research and collaboration. RM100mil budget to be used to match investments with industry players to catalyse R&D culture.

Karamjit Singh, Digital News Asia | Jun 10, 2013

CREST Turns Oneread the article on Digital News Asia

AS much as industry seems to be united in crying out for ‘industry-ready graduates,’ there is a caveat” That the graduates are ready for their particular needs and technology platforms.

This is short-term thinking. Give them the choice between this and a scenario where industry, academia and government work closely together to create the right programmes and ecosystem for graduates, and you can bet industry will opt for this latter scenario which ensures a long-term sustainable supply of hireable graduates.

And this is what has happened with the creation of Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) on June 9, 2012. While industry thinks the agency should have been established years ago, the pressure is on for that agency to hit the ground running at full throttle.

Fortunately for the electronics and electrical (E&E) industry, CREST chief executive officer Jaffri Ibrahim (pic) is doing this.

In fact, the agency officially launched operations with a graduation ceremony where 98 E&E students completed a Fast Track programme where they served one-year internships. CREST worked with TalentCorp on the programme, which takes more of an apprenticeship approach rather than mere internship.

To date, this collaboration has successfully produced 230 industry-ready graduates, with the target to produce 450 more by 2015.

Incidentally, talent development is one of three key themes CREST will focus on, the second being research and collaboration, and commercialisation the third.

While Jaffri was appointed CEO last June, there were already working groups, consisting of industry players and government representatives, laying plans on the ground from as early as 2011. “Which is why I always tell people we hit the ground running from our launch,” says Jaffri.

Intent on maintaining that momentum, Jaffri shares what the agency has done in the past 12 months to live up to its mission of being a catalyst to inspire the E&E sector in becoming the research and collaboration centre for the country, the region and the world – within three, six and nine years respectively.

“The goal is to create an R&D culture within our E&E sector,” he says.

He agrees it will be a tough mission to accomplish, but thinks there is enough talent in the ecosystem and, more importantly, desire among the key players for this to happen – the key players in this case being industry, academia and government.

One major factor about CREST is that it is industry-led, with government playing the role of facilitator. CREST has a RM100-million (US$32-million) budget, a large portion of which will be used for R&D in matching grants.

Over the past year it has already completed three cycles of evaluation and awards where 76 projects worth RM39.8 million (US$12.9 million) were assessed.

“Thirty five R&D projects worth RM24.1 million (US$7.8 million) were approved, of which CREST contributed RM8.3 million (US$2.7 million), with the rest from industry,” says Jaffri.

Other data points Jaffri shared show that CREST has contributed to producing 58 graduates with a Master’s degree of higher, and 22 pieces of intellectual property.

In terms of collaboration, it has seen 12 multinationals, 13 local companies, 15 local universities and one foreign university involved in its various programmes. Among the multinationals are its 10 founding members: Altera, AMD, Agilent, Avago, Clarion, Intel, Motorola Solutions, National Instruments, Osram and Silterra.

Moving forward, there are various plans to further develop the ecosystem for collaboration with a business incubator, targeted for a soft launch in the fourth quarter of this year. This will be in collaboration with Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA) and University Science Malaysia (USM) to nurture E&E projects and talent.

Alongside this is the creation of an Expert Network programme to bring together global experts to contribute to the E&E ecosystem, mainly through research collaboration with academia, industry and renowned institutions in clusters deemed critical for Malaysia.

Shared service facilities and labs are also being worked on for Q4 2013 as is the creation of repositories of talent, expertise and resources for the E&E community.

Shared services and labs will leverage on CREST’s investment in laboratory equipment, talent pool and access to local and global network of similar organisations. The talent repository is currently in a pilot at a university and with one company. The intent is to go live with five companies and five universities by year-end.

This talent repository and shared services labs will be of interest to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which always struggle to attract talent and invest in expensive equipment. Engaging with this group is important to Jaffri.

“We believe in a hands-on approach in reaching out to our SMEs and have implemented a few successful matchmaking exercises. The first was the business matching symposium with Clarion and its technology partners with MSC Malaysia (Multimedia Super Corridor) companies last November,” says Jaffri.

It is also currently facilitating business-matching between Intel, Altera, Agilent and Motorola Solutions with MSC Malaysia and other local E&E companies on opportunities identified for the next 24 months.

“We will continue to do this as the interest has increased after our initial success. In addition, we will implement more symposiums, roundtable discussions, seminars and talks to further encourage our SMEs to participate in CREST,” says Jaffri.

Academia is already a key partner in CREST with curriculum embedment (content developed and validated by industry players) and adjunct faculty programmes, Jaffri and CREST founding members are looking at the talent pipeline earlier in the chain to come up with programmes to attract youth to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

This was a common concern for all the CREST founding members when Digital News Asia (DNA) spoke to them.

“Clearly there is a lot to do to further enhance the competitiveness of our E&E ecosystem and with CREST being industry-led and government-supported, we are acting on many of the issues today instead of merely talking about them,” claims Jaffri.

The hope is that by 2021, when CREST achieves its vision of being a globally renown centre for research and collaboration in the E&E space, all today’s issues will be mere footnotes in the history of the sector.

CREST Turns Oneread the article on Digital News Asia