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How to attract our youth to 3D jobs

 | February 17, 2016

Malaysia can learn from Australia.



Are our young people willing to do the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs that are essential to the development of the country but which they look upon as less glamorous than what they imagine themselves doing? Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin raised that very pertinent question amidst criticism of the government’s decision to bring in 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers. It’s a question that most governments of countries with a large middle income population have found difficult to answer.

Research has shown that the youth of today can be as hardworking as they are expected to be, but only as long as the establishments they work for are worthy of their respect. This means, essentially, that their employers must first respect them as human beings with human needs.

This is not to say that there aren’t young people who don’t deserve every complaint levelled against the millennial generation. There are those who would never consider a job in construction or cleaning services because there’s a stigma on those jobs as being low class. But then again, that perception is encouraged by society’s attitude towards people who perform those jobs. Their employers pay them low wages and don’t provide them with humane working environments. Largely because of that, society looks down upon them.

So it does seem like it’s the role of employers to start making a change. They must answer some questions that are on the minds of those being offered these 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and difficult. What are the opportunities for career advancement in my station? Does my employer contribute to my EPF? Is there some kind of company insurance for labourers? Do I at least know I’ll be making a salary I can live on for the work that breaks my back every day?

Currently, the one answer to these questions is a resounding “No.”

There is a definite devaluing of jobs in construction, cleaning services, automotive maintenance and so on. The truth is that there are many young people who would be willing to do these vocational jobs provided these elements are in place: a way to advance in a career, a decent living wage and, at the very least, humane working conditions. That is not too much to ask if there is to be a drive to recruit youth to take on some of the more difficult vocational jobs in Malaysia.

In fact, we should look at creating a vocational educational and training (VET) programme like Australia’s.

Australia’s VET system recognizes vocational jobs as just as important to any growing society as a desk or professional job and it promotes equitable pay. The system also promotes apprenticeships. This means that one of working age can learn a craft under an established veteran of the chosen vocation, whether it be cuisine, hairdressing, construction work, farming, or any of more than 500 different jobs that the system supports.

Employers are given incentive payments when apprentices commence, recommence, or finish their training, creating a win-win situation. Furthermore, the employers are provided with skilled workers should they choose to keep the former apprentices in their employment.

Vocational jobs are essential to the development of any country. Because we have failed to acknowledge this through our treatment of these workers, we’ve left a low-class stigma on such work. We’ve simply taken away great employment opportunities for young Malaysians not suited to administrative, academic or professional jobs.

Mr DPM and Mr Youth and Sports Minister, many of our young people are not afraid of hard work. They are willing to get their hands dirty and place themselves in danger, but they cannot be expected to work down a dead end path forever. The government must meet them halfway by establishing humane working conditions and ensuring that the wages they earn provide them with a decent living.


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