The serene, tranquil atmosphere of the Majestic Spa in the Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur is worlds away from the noisy, sweaty and bustling working conditions of Joyee Ong Hang Yee’s first job as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant in her hometown of Raub, Pahang.
The youngest of eight children, Joyee, 29, came from a family that did not give great importance to academic excellence. There was not much career prospects for a young woman who was not academically inclined in her small town of Raub. Joyee became a waitress in a Chinese restaurant. "That was the only job that I could get at that time. I did not think much about my future," she says.
The job was hard and taxing, not exactly the kind of future that Joyee had for herself. She was looking to get out. When her sister who lived in Klang Valley asked her to help her out in her home hair salon business, Joyee jumped at the chance to leave Raub and to try her hand in a different career. She ended up working for her sister for nine years. During that time she graduated from being a shampoo girl to a hair stylist.
"I was getting bored with the work and I wanted a change," says Joyee. But what could she do? Joyee took stock of her life. She was in her late 20s and did not have a stable job. The idea of spending the rest of her working life as a home salon hair stylist was more than what she could bear. Her future seemed bleak and she was in despair.
Just when she lost all hope of getting ahead in her life, her sister alerted Joyee to the Spa Therapist Training Programme by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MOTAC). This programme was initiated in recognition of the growing importance of the spa industry to the growth of tourism in Malaysia. The programme is opened for Malaysians who are keen to be trained as professional spa therapists.
Joyee decided to join the programme under Beaubelle Academy, one of the Centres of Excellence (COE) for spa therapy. At the end of her three month training, Beaubelle Academy helped her prepare for job interviews for job placement. That's how Joyee ended up at the Majestic Spa.
"I never imagined that I would one day get a chance to work in such a luxurious atmosphere as in this spa or that I would get to serve customers who are from high society and foreign tourists. I have come a long way from my days as a waitress and as a hair dresser in a home salon,” says Joyee. “In the three months that I have been here, the spa has sent me for further training to hone my skill. This spa has very high standards and I have had to push myself really hard. It has been worth it as I never knew I had it in me to live up to the challenge," adds Joyee.
Joey sees the spa industry as a service industry that prides itself in making people feel better about themselves. "Whenever I give customers a pedicure or manicure, a massage or a facial, I know I am helping them feel and look better."
Entering the programme has opened Joyee’s eyes to the exciting prospects in the spa industry. The industry is expected to generate nearly RM700 million and provide job opportunities to more than 5,000 people by 2020. "I now realise what a promising future this spa industry has. For the first time in my life I feel I am not in a dead end job. I know that if I go for further courses, I can go a long way in this industry. The income level is also very attractive," says Joyee.
Most important of all, the Spa Therapist Training Programme has given Joyee a future she has never dreamed of. "My life has been aimless ever since I left school. For the first time, I have a direction in my life and dreams for my future. One day I hope to own my own spa and be my own boss."
Rokiah Yaacob was working as a clerk in the army when she met and married her husband who was also an officer in the Armed Forces. She soon became a full time mom to her three sons. A few years after marriage, the couple moved back to their home state Kedah. Rokiah was 42 and seven months pregnant with her daughter when tragedy struck that was to have a deep impact in her life: her husband had a heart attack and suddenly passed away.
"Those were really tough times. I only had my husband’s pension, which was not enough to support my family," recalls Rokiah looking back at the dark period of her life. Rokiah's husband had bought 2 hectares of land a few years ago which he used to cultivate paddy to supplement his income. Rokiah used to help out in the land occasionally. But now she had no choice but to be the main player in utilizing the land. That padi field was going to feed her family.
"I moved my family from the town to the village and lived near the land," says Rokiah. "The cost of living in the village was much lower. And I went to work full time to till the land." Life was hard and it was a constant struggle. Rokiah had to take care of her kids and work in the paddy field, which, for a single mom, was difficult.
"There were times everything was so overwhelming and I wanted to give up. But when I thought of my children, I knew I had to go on for their sake."
Luckily for Rokiah, help was at hand in the form of MADA (Muda Agricultural Development Authority). MADA, established in 1970, has always been a huge presence in the lives of padi farmers in Kedah for many years. The organisation has worked hard to uplift the lives of padi farmers.
In 2010 when the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) was launched, agriculture was identified as one of the 12 New Key Economic Areas (NKEA). The Agriculture NKEA "focuses on transforming a traditionally small-scale, production-based sector into a large-scale agribusiness industry that contributes to economic growth and sustainability"
MADA introduced a new farming method – the estate farming approach – called the padi estate project. This project will create a centralized padi management system and increase the padi production to eight tonnes per hectare compared to five tonnes at present by 2020. At present most farm productions are managed individually and the yield is not as high as it should be. Under the padi estate project, the farmers will still owe their own land but it will be managed by the Area Farmers’ Association (AFA).
Rokiah who over the years has benefitted from MADA's help and suggestions is a keen supporter of the padi estate project because she can see the benefits it will bring to the lives' of the farmers such as herself. "I hope MADA’s padi estate project will be accepted by more people because its benefits are many," she says. "Under this project it will be easier to use modern equipments and machines to make the planting and harvesting processes faster.”
Since the launch of the paddy estate project under the ETP, Rokiah has seen many positive changes in her life. "Before I could only earn around RM1,000 per month; now my income has increased from RM1,500 to RM2,000," she said.
The greatest satisfaction for Rokiah is to see the changes in her own life. "For many years I lived in a dilapidated house. With more income, I am able to renovate my house. I am happy I can give my children a nicer living environment. I also managed to buy motorcycles for my sons. I used to feel bad seeing them cycle long distances. But now with the bikes it is easier and faster for them to travel."
Fourteen years ago when Rokiah's husband died, she was in despair wondering how she was going to raise her family. Rokiah's struggles are not over yet but she is in a far happier place now than she was before.
Pengerang is a sleepy little town situated in southeastern Johor. All that changed when the Government announced that Pengerang would be the site for the massive multi-billion investment project, the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC).
Mohd Zaidee Abdul Rahim, a homegrown Pengerang boy, is one of the 50,000 with a job and an attractive salary thanks to the developments that have come to Pengerang because of the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). He is an electrical technician with the Pengerang Deepwater Terminal (PDT)
"I am so happy that I got a very good job in my hometown. I never thought this would be possible," Mohd Zaidee who is in his late twenties said.
Mohd Zaidee has not worked on such a major project before and the experience has been fantastic. "I am given a lot of opportunities to learn different things. I am well versed in the electrical side but I have been learning a lot about instrumentation which is more towards the mechanical."
For young people who are willing to work hard and eager to learn, working at PDT is like striking a gold mine. “There are lots of opportunities to learn and to advance in one’s career here,” explains Mohd Zaidee.
"The working environment is good. Everyone is very professional and ethical in their work. I have had no problems working here so far. It is very challenging no doubt but I like the fact that I am constantly being challenged to learn new things. Whenever I have any doubts or problems, my colleagues are very helpful. If they can't solve it then I will go to my supervisor who will advise me on how to handle the problem."
Working here has also made him more ambitious in his career. "I want to upgrade myself. I want to become an electrical supervisor. And then after that who knows? Maybe I will take courses to attain even higher posts," he says. "I have become a more disciplined worker and this has done wonders for my self confidence."
The PIPC and PDT require lots of skilled workers. Those with technical vocational educational training (TVET) are in high demand. "The Oil and Gas sector offers tremendous opportunities not just for engineers. Skilled workers such as painting inspector, site supervisor, electrical supervisor, welders etc are in high demand here," explains Mohd Zaidee. "I am urging all my friends to come here to work because the pay is good, the work experience is fantastic and there is lots of room for advancement in career."
Mohd Zaidee is grateful that he is now able to help out his parents. "My father is a retired school teacher while my mom is a housewife. I am so proud to be able to contribute to my family financially," he says beaming with pride.
Pengerang is also expected to experience a boom. The influx of thousands of workers will have a positive effect for the town's economy. The workers would need transportation, housing, food, hospitality and medical services just to name a few. When the PIPC is fully operational, Pengerang will be a bustling major town.
Mohd Zaidee is just one of the people whose life has been transformed because of the projects at Pengerang due to the ETP. "My quality of life has improved. I hope the people of Pengerang will have a brighter future now."
From young Leslie Ewe was always fascinated by the visual images. He would spend hours giving vent to his imagination by drawing on the blackboard. He would pour over the images in magazines and study them carefully, imagining how the photographer got the image. Leslie also loved movies and music especially music videos. He was destined for the art or design school.
Unfortunately financial problems got in the way and the young Leslie started working part time in a restaurant. He saved enough money and managed to find a small college where he studied advertising and communications. His career in the visual arts took off when he was accepted as an intern in a local production house that specialised in television commercials in Malaysia. This was 15 years ago.
"I have gone through various departments in the film industry – from production, location scouting, casting, crew and art department," says Leslie, who is currently based in the Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studio.
"I developed an interest towards Art Department and started getting involved with the various aspects of that department. I started from packing up trucks to become an art assistant and then as a standby. Along the way I learned about props and dressing. For the past nine years I have been an Art Director and it’s been great fun!"
Leslie explains what an Art Director does. "An Art Director creates the visual look for the film. We have to create the environment around the actors in terms of overall scenery, the looks – whether is it a period film, a contemporary film or one set in the future. We work closely with the props and costume department to ensure that the colours and design fit in with the mood of the film and specific vision that the director has for the film."
Malaysia he says, has many talented people in the visual media scene. Unfortunately they are under utilised and not given challenging jobs to push their skills further. But all that is about to change now that the world famous Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studio has opened its doors at Iskandar, Johor. It is the largest state-of-the-art studio for film and television production in the region.
Leslie is one of the many local talents who have benefitted from this studio’s presence in Malaysia. Leslie feels Pinewood Iskandar is the best thing that has happened to give the local film industry a shot in the arm.
"Pinewood Iskandar is helping the industry to grow at a different level. It is bringing international work on a huge scale. This in turn will give opportunities for local talents from all fields – whether from production, crews, actors etc. – to gain new knowledge, understanding and experience. It will also raise the profile of Malaysia as an international location for film and TV productions," he explains. "This will also benefit our local productions as the Malaysians who have been exposed to the international standards will bring the same standards to our productions."
The Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studio has opened up many opportunities in the creative industry for people like Leslie. "I am very honoured and happy to be associated with a project with Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia," says Leslie.
In her early twenties, Karen Tan lived a life many of her peers envied. She was a banker who worked in Singapore. She earned very well and lived the high life. Yet, something was missing in her life. "Initially it was exciting but after some time I wanted to do something more meaningful," says Karen.
Three years later, Karen came home. She began to look for a job that would give her personal satisfaction. Shen then realized that her passion was working with children.
"I used to baby sit my aunt Grace’s child and it gave me such joy," says Karen. Joy was something that was missing in her job as a banker.
Karen helped her aunt Grace to look for a quality child care centre when Grace wanted to return to work. They could not find one that satisfied them. That’s when Karen realised that there is a market for high quality early childcare education (ECCE) centres in Malaysia.
The idea to start an ECCE centre came when Karen was discussing the idea with her two aunts: Grace, who worked in the corporate sector and Laura, a Montessorian with many years experience. The two women decided to join Karen to open an ECCE centre. That’s how My Playpen started in 2011.
"The main objective of starting My Playpen was to give quality care and a safe and secure environment for the children. The place had to be clean and the care givers are well trained and full of love for their charges," explains Karan. "We also wanted to ensure that children enjoy coming to our place and the parents have a peace of mind when they leave their children here."
Their timing to open an ECCE centre was right as the Government had launched the Economic Transformation Programme in 2010. ECCE was identified as an important segment of the Education National Key Economic Area (NKEA). The Government realises the important role played by ECCE in a child's development. The Government is focused on raising the quality of ECCE educators so that they are better equipped to educate young children.
Having no experience in running an ECCE centre before, it was tough going initially as the Karen had to learn the nitty-gritty of running such a centre. Karen was doing a lot of research on the Internet on where to get the license, what courses were available that had to taken etc. Karen underwent training and obtained an ECCE certificate from the Department of Welfare (JKM).
Luckily for Karen, in November 2011 there was a two-day National ECCE-Unicef Conference in Kuala Lumpur. “The conference was really helpful because I got lots of important information regarding ECCE. The conference opened my eyes to how important ECCE is for children under five’s development. It also made me realise it's not something anybody can do. You need professionals – people who are properly trained and qualified," says Karen. “After attending the conference I told myself that I wanted to do my part to bring this industry forward."
My Playpen has about 45 children whose ages range from 18 months to four years. They also have a few children between the ages of four to six who come here after their kindergarten because there is no care taker at home as both parents are working. "We only take in a maximum of nine children from this age group," says Karen, who is the activity coordinator of My Playpen. And there is a long waiting list of children wanting to get into My Playpen.
For Karen, the ECCE industry has a bright future.
"I hope to be writing policies for ECCE in the future. ECCE has lots of potential for growth. I am proud to be part of this industry. I am not earning as much as I did when I was a banker but I am very happy. You can’t buy happiness!" she said.
Surhan understood that the best way to increase his income was to be his own boss and become an entrepreneur. Surhan, who was not academically inclined, had graduated from a vocational school in the late 1970s with a diploma in mechanical and electrical engineering. His years of working experience gave him enough confidence to open an automobile repair workshop, Nuren Auto Service (named after his wife) in 2007.
After a few years in business, Surhan noticed that his business was not picking up as fast as he had hoped. One of the reasons for this was he lacked more sophisticated equipments in this workshop like the four post hoist and the computerized wheel balancer to give his clients better service. And he did not have the money to invest in them either.
In 2010, he heard about ATOM, the Automative Workshop Modernisation programme from his friends. ATOM is an initiative under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to modernise and transform the fragmented automotive service and repair industry.
"ATOM has been truly transformative for my business," enthuses Surhan. "ATOM did not help out by giving money in the form of loans. If ATOM had given money, it would have been spent on other things. ATOM gave me equipments to modernize my workshop. With equipments I could expand my business; I could take on more cars for repair and services and offer more sophisticated services using the equipments. I could really see a marked improvement in my business with the help from ATOM."
Surhan was also touched with the way officers in ATOM monitored his business. "The officers at ATOM listen to my feedback and my problems. They were very proactive in helping me. They would ask me how my business was doing and how much I was making. If I had difficulty finding clients, they would recommend people to come to my workshop," he says.
The automotive industry has undergone tremendous changes in the last couple of years with cars now containing more electronic components and the emergence of the hybrid cars. "A mechanic has to be far more highly skilled today than he was 10 years ago," says Surhan. ATOM has been instrumental in upgrading the skills of Surhan and his staff via the courses and training that they have had to attend.
Enrolling into the ATOM programme was one of the best decisions that Surhan had made for his business. "The modern equipment has resulted in increased cash flow. The extra cash makes it possible for me to reinvest in my workshop," he said.
Surhan has also seen another of his dream come true thanks to ATOM: that of being an instructor. Now he teaches not only the young workers who work under him but also students who want to learn about automobile repairs, he says proudly.
The success of his workshop has made Surhan more ambitious: he wants to create a one-stop centre for cars: from repairing to doing major body works such as welding, knocking and spray painting. "I have the workforce; I am now training them in specialized skills in car repairing," he reveals.
Surhan is one happy man. His dream of providing a comfortable life for his family has come true, thanks to a little help from ATOM.