HELP University bestowed honours on two esteemed personalities during its convocation ceremony at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur on March 19, 2023.
These were an Honorary Doctor of Education on Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng, and the Distinguished Entrepreneur Award on Datuk Ng Chai Eng.
Chiam has many accolades to her name. She is recognised internationally as an authority on early childhood care education (ECCE) in Malaysia, and she initiated the first undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in this field at the University of Malaya, where she retired as a professor.
She also worked with the Malaysian Qualifications Agency to develop standards for professional early childhood programmes and contributed to the founding of the ECCE Council of Malaysia in 2010.
Ng is the executive director and group chief executive officer of UWC Berhad. He came from humble beginnings at a village near Butterworth, Penang, where his father worked in a rubber factory.
Ng began his career in 1982 as an apprentice electrician, before working his way up to senior technician and eventually plant manager. In the early 1980s, his boss came to visit him after his father suffered a stroke, and it was then that his ambition to start his own business was sparked off.
In 1990, he started UWC (Unique Wire Cut) to sell wire-cutting machines. UWC Berhad is now a public-listed company which reached a market cap of RM3.64bil. It manufactures precision engineering products, semiconductors, medical devices and electromagnetic locks. He also has other public-listed companies in the ACE Market of Bursa Malaysia.
Both Chiam and Ng celebrated their achievements at HELP University’s convocation along with 1,233 graduates.
Early childhood crucial
“I am very grateful that a prestigious university has bestowed this honorary degree on me,” said Chiam.
“This signifies HELP University’s recognition and promotion of quality early childhood care and education (ECCE).”
When children lack a strong foundation in ECCE in the first five years of their lives, they end up lacking basic confidence in asking questions, thinking and learning. Many then end up dropping out of schools and becoming delinquents, she explained.
“Studies have shown that for every dollar (RM 4.49) we invest in ECCE, we save 17 dollars (RM76.31) from dealing with the problems of crime later. Quality child care also means that women will be better able to join the workforce,” she said.
Chiam believes that the government needs to devote much more resources for child care centres managed by qualified people, especially for disadvantaged communities.
On another issue, she pointed out that children are born with billions of brain neurons which are stimulated by life experiences, thus enabling them to learn different languages early in life.
“Being a multiracial country, our children should learn more languages. In the past it was believed that this would confuse them, but children can distinguish between different languages spoken to grandparents, parents, neighbours and other people,” she elaborated.
Constant upgrading and upskilling
Ng is a firm believer in transformation and diversification.
“For example, in those days, families who had sundry shops were considered quite well off. But nowadays, they have to improve themselves into mini markets and beyond,” he explained.
Ng began his business by selling wire cutting machines. He then ventured into lower-end manufacturing such as metal stamping/cutting services and making moulds.
“At first we were just making parts for lifts, then we started making whole lifts under the Schindler brand,” said Ng.
Since then, UWC has ventured into the medical technology, semiconductor and precision engineering industries. His company’s transformation reflects Penang’s growth from low-margin, back-end work to high-value manufacturing.
“As prices and wages keep increasing, if we don’t constantly improve our business, we cannot sustain it,” he noted.
Not only did Ng’s company climb the value chain by doing higher-tech work, it also ventured overseas to look to new markets.
“This is what I call the ‘move up, move out’ approach. 70 percent of our work is now done for export,” he said.
“Our company UWC stands for unity, willpower and commitment.”