ALBERT Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Yet in this corner of the world, many people - the older generation in particular - still do so by holding on to the mindset that achieving high academic scores equates to success.
They deem university education as most prestigious and believe nothing else, including Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), can beat that.
However, TVET graduates Nur Izzati Athirah Mohamad Yusof, 21, and Hanis Syuhada Abd Halim, 21, beg to differ.
Describing the mindset as one that needs to take a 360 degree turn, both are determined to make it big in sectors that are male dominated and agree that TVET has helped them pursue their ambitions.
Nur Izzati Athirah, now a full time certified underwater welder and trainer, said she chose the tough profession as it presented challenges, which allowed her to improve her skillsets through experiential and practical learning.
“Some misconceptions people have towards vocational training is that it doesn’t offer job opportunities and that it is hard to enter university with it. We all have opportunities, but it is up to us to find and secure them,” said the lass who completed her diploma in welding technology from a vocational college in Taiping, as well as underwater welding training from Weldzone Training Centre Sdn Bhd.
Hanis Syuhada, a full time assistant veterinarian in a dairy farm in Desaru, Johor, said TVET allowed those - like herself - who are not academically inclined to pursue something which they are passionate about.
“The perception whereby academic achievement is deemed as success is wrong. Getting a string of As in exams does not determine our success in the workplace.
“Those who are good in academics are idea contributors, but it is skilled workers who execute the work,” said the animal lover who now tends to the cows on the farm, caring for their every need from feeding, nursing to performing surgery during their labour.
“Caring for the well-being of large animals was my ambition since primary school, even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy and that not all ladies can handle it,” said Hanis Syuhada who graduated from Kolej Vokasional Datuk Lela Maharaja, Rembau, Negri Sembilan in August last year.
Challenges and advantages
Fondly known as “cow girl” due to the nature of her work, Hanis Syuhada - who wants to be the top in her field - said it was tough breaking into the male dominated sector.
“I have faced discrimination where my male colleagues would tell me that I’m doing is a man’s job.
“I turn their negativity into motivation. The more they tell me I can’t do it, the more I’ll do it to prove to them and myself that I can,” she said, adding that no one should be afraid of pursuing their dreams.
“TVET also made me realise that I can do what my male colleagues can do, and this gave my confidence a boost,” said Hanis Syuhada who hopes more females would follow in her footsteps to take up a course of their liking in TVET.
Fortunately for Nur Izzati Athirah otherwise known as the Iron Lady, she did not face discrimination in the workplace. However, her work environment is its own challenge.
The brave lass has to muster her courage to overcome her fear of water and has to risk running into wild marine animals each time she carries out her job underwater.
On the advantages, Nur Izzati Athirah said it helped her be braver and toughened her up.
“TVET helped me advance in my career and created healthy competition between me and my male colleagues.
“The training is also important to produce skilled workers that the country lacks,” she said.
Hanis Syuhada agreed, saying that the country can gradually reduce its dependence on foreign workers if more skilled and certified workers are produced locally.
“TVET can also help raise the reputation of Malaysia’s skilled workers sector because the country does have talented individuals,” she said, adding that good skilled workers can also venture overseas to make a good living as well as expand their knowledge in their respective fields.
Bright futures for certified grads
Weldzone Training Centre Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Mohd Shukri Mohd Abdul Aziz said he was proud of Nur Izzati Athirah, noting that she is a good role model for the youth.
“She is doing very well. She tries very hard to do her best because she is competing in a male dominated occupation,” said the man who has over 30 years of experience in the field.
Nur Izzati Athirah’s achievement can open the eyes of other youths, helping them realise that underwater welding can provide one with a promising career, he said.
She has a bright future ahead of her as she has had many job offers coming from within and beyond the country, he added.
Former Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon previously said TVET students are highly sought after and are being offered good jobs - with about 90% out of 13,000 TVET students securing jobs even before graduating last year.
He noted that the starting salary of TVET graduates started from RM2,000, reaching up to RM5,000 a month - which is comparable to university graduates.
“Vocational and technical graduates don’t just end up opening beauty salons or bakeries, many of them work for multinational companies like (aircraft manufacturer) Boeing, which has a service centre in Malaysia.
“If your children aren’t interested in academic studies, don’t force them. Let them choose their career paths according to their interests,” he said previously.
More to be done in TVET
Mohd Shukri said TVET enables individuals who are not academically inclined to excel in whichever field they are capable in.
“They are able to gain valuable hands-on experience as well as get good certification upon completing a certified programme,” he said.
However, he pointed out that initiatives to propel TVET are still lacking in the country.
“There are roughly 53 institutions in Malaysia that train welders, but sadly many of them train students using outdated machines and technology.
“I engaged about 100 TVET graduates previously and they didn’t know how to operate the new machines. They had to go through another round of intensive training and that cost time and resources,” he shared, noting that there is a gap between TVET institutions and the industry that needs to be filled.
“Institutions need advisors who are from the industry to keep them updated on what is happening at grassroots level. They also need to be more open to suggestions and should not get angry when issues are brought up,” he said.
He also shared that success stories of TVET graduates as well as those who draw a salary of RM5,000 a month make up a very small percentage and this should change.
For more females to break into male dominated fields, Mohd Shukri said workers’ - the males in particular - need to improve their proffesionalism.
“Some female welders I have trained were prohibited from entering their work premises to carry out their jobs, not because they were not good in what they do, but because the management was concerned on their safety as the number of male workers greatly overshadowed them,” he said.
With only about 8% of secondary students involved in TVET last year, Chong had reiterated to parents to change the outdated view that university education was more prestigious, especially when university graduates were struggling to secure jobs.
He pointed out the country must catch up to advanced countries like Germany and Switzerland, where almost 60% of their students are in TVET.
During the Going Global 2018 international conference held in Kuala Lumpur last month, Asean Secretariat deputy secretary-general for socio-cultural community Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee said Asean was trying to give TVET the recognition it deserves and a special working group has been formed “to push TVET to a higher level within Asean.” He added that these are all part of efforts to prepare the region for the fourth industrial revolution.
“It’s not just the priority of the higher education sector. We recognise that we have to look at this issue from an integrated point of view and are also working closely with the labour and economic sectors,” he said during the conference which was the world’s largest higher education event.