Higher wages abroad are luring oil and gas workers away from Malaysia, leading to a shortage of skilled labour in the country.

Oil and gas multinational corporations based in Singapore and the Middle East are attracting Malaysian workers with higher salaries, The Star reports.

The trend has undermined Malaysia’s initiatives to produce highly skilled workers for its oil and gas industry, said Manpower Department deputy director-general Syed Mohamad Noor Syed Mat Ali.

He said Malaysia and companies operating locally were on the losing end as foreign companies reaped the benefits of Malaysia’s efforts to train locals.

“There is nothing much that Malaysia can do to stop highly skilled locals in the O&G [oil and gas] sector from working in other countries,” Mohamad Noor told The Star, adding that the only way to keep highly skilled Malaysians at home was for local companies to pay good monthly salary and benefits package.

A certified welder working offshore in Malaysia earns between 4,000 to 5,000 Malaysian ringgit, approximately $1,600.

“The same person will get between 4,000 Singaporean dollars and 5,000 Singaporean dollars in Singapore and $10,000 if he chooses to work in any of the oil producing Arab countries,” he said.

Currently, only 23% of Malaysians are highly skilled workers, a figure the country aims to increase to 33% by 2015 and 50% by 2020, Mohamad Noor added.