Friday, October 29, 2010

The Intern & A place to dye for

This entry is obviously not about Monica Lewinsky, even if she was perhaps one of the more famous - or rather infamous, intern. And while the title sounds heavy, again like all my other entries, I don't write about heavy stuff here in this blog.

It is supposed to be light reading.

The summer before my final year at Monash, I was required to take up (summer) internship in order for me to gain some valuable working experience before my actual fling in the job market. Then most universities in Australia were a bit lenient on the duration, unlike many universities in Malaysia today - we were only required to take up to 12 weeks of internship.
The Menzies Building at Monash's Clayton Campus.
While I was interested to work in a Mat Salleh company in Australia, but since bapak had just passed away in a couple of months ealier (August 1984), I thought it would be wise for me to find a job in Malaysia so that I could return home (again) in December. (I had paid for my own way to come back in August 1984 for bapa's funeral, so that year I was back at home twice.)

There weren't that many choices, I guess. I could try the many plants mushrooming out in Terengganu, but I would not want to be away from home at all this time around, so not even the lure of the black gold was enough to entice me to leave my cocoon. Taiping, however, did not offer too many alternatives. No heavy industry in this sleepy hollow. With MARA's help, I managed to secure an internship at Taiping Textiles (TAIFAB) in Kamunting. It was the best option for me. It was perhaps the most well known textile company in Taiping, and the premier factory in Kamunting Industrial Estate.

I guess nama pun dah estate, what do you expect?

Then a local entity had just acquired the shares of TAIFAB from the Taiwanese.

I didn't really care where I would be doing the internship, to be honest. I just wanted to make sure that I fulfilled the requirement for me to graduate as an engineer. Nothing more, nothing less. I did not treat the internship as the most important thing that would make or break my study or future career. It is not like a lifetime employment, or choosing a girl for marriage. You can't afford to make mistake. In this case, three months, and I would be gone.

At Taifab, I decided to work in the lab as opposed in the production line. I thought I could learn better at the lab, as I would have time to reflect on my work, and since I knew next to nothing about making textiles.

The great thing about working there was that I was fetched to work by the company's van. No bas kilang for me - it was managers' van kilang instead. The managers have their own company transportation, much as the factory girls do with theirs, so it was a privilege for me to be able to join them. It was easy to impress the impressionable student then. I was thankful for the transportation even if it were not a BMW.

Like many wide-eyed interns before him, the internship did give me insight into working life and what the future held for me.

The funny thing about working there that until today I could not comprehend was the fact that everything (except the production floors) would shut down at 5.15 pm. Sharp! By 5.10 pm actually, everybody would be at the front gate, including the managers and the factory girls. You will see the blue busses lining up the street in front of the factory ready to ferrying the workers back to their homes in the neighbouring suburbs.

At 5.15 pm, the guard would open the gate and the thousands of workers would rush to their busses and leave the premise. 

Mind you, this included the managers. Obviously as an intern, I would not have any choice, but to follow with the flow, though then without any commitment, I would not disagree with this policy. It is more like I vehemently agreed to this wholeheartedly.

I have never seen anything like that since. It would be unthinkable to fathom leaving work for home right on time, like you were a clock watcher. I abhor that to be honest.

But I guess that's life then in the (production) factory.

Later on in life, I found out that there is such policy called OA5 policy. Funnily I learned this prior to my MBA days and I even introduced this concept to my management class at UIA - whether anyone has taken it or not, I am not sure to be honest. OA5 is a policy introduced by Dilbert in the classic The Dilbert Principle.

The key to management, according to Dilbert (Author Scott Adams) is knowing what's fundamental to success and what's not, for a company. "The goal is to get the best work out of the employees during office hours and make sure they leave work by five o’ clock. Finishing by five o’clock is so central to everything that follows that I named the company OA5 (Out at five) to reinforce the point. If you let his part of the concept slip, the rest of it falls apart."

The primary objective is to make each employee as effective as possible within the time frame of the operating hours of the company. I tried doing that in the early days of operating my own company in 2007, but I found out that Malaysian workers have a peculiar way to reacting to such privilege.

They tend to abuse it. One such person was a habitual late comer, and yet she would still be leaving at 5! Luckily she is no longer working for me.

I guess long before the arrival of the The Dilbert Principle, one Malaysian company was already practicing it; the only thing is that no one studied it formally and wrote a book.

One other thing that I noticed there is the very pittance salary paid to the workers. If I am not mistaken, on average, they were paid RM220 per month, while I, as the intern, was paid RM300. Mine was pittance too, but I was on full scholarship even when I was back in Malaysia, so the internship allowance was just pocket money for me.

And I don't have to pay for my room in Taiping.

It is a pity and honestly even in 1985, RM220 would not take you anywhere, and unlike me, the workers have no other income. (As a comparison, as stated in my previous entry, I was paid A$420 a week or A$1680 per month, and I was a labourer. On the other hand, workers at Perak Hanjoong were paid about the same amount RM200-RM250, depending on their qualification.)

But then again, that's the discrepancy of salary of workers in Malaysia. There was, and still is, a big gap on workers and management salaries.

Life in the lab was reasonably good. All the lab technicians were girls/ladies, so the lab manager and the intern were surrounded by the gals all the time. Basically our tasks were to come up with the proper dye composition to be used in the production line depending on customer requirements. 

The lab technicians with the intern squeezed at the
back, in the dye laboratory at Taiping Textile,  in Kamunting. A place
to dye for, so to speak. ;-) I have forgotten all their names except perhaps for Maria.
Nice people, they all were.  Can you see the sewing machine on the left?
It is a textile company, obviously we have to use them in our work there,
but I normally would leave it to the gals to use them! ;-)
Yes, we can make your clothing water-proofed too, if you asked for it. And I have forgotten how to make the army uniform of celorang-celoreng.

I have really enjoyed my time there. The gals were helpful. They knew a lot more than the intern obviously, but would not qualm about assisting him. Being an overseas student helped a lot too in my socializing with them. The manager, a Malaysian Chinese, was every willing too to ensure that I got the most from my internship. Three months (make that two actually) was way too short to be learning much about the textile industry, but I did learn about the working environment - a whole world away from life as a student.

Honestly, I was just fulfilling part of the requirement to graduate at Monash. The internship was not meant to be a be all and end all in the grand scheme of things in life. Thirty more years of working life awaited me then; so the value of the three month summertime internship was much less that what was perceived by many. I disagree with the current (local) university practices of asking their students to take up 6-8 month internship which would form part of their semester.

It is not like this internship was added to the duration, so I am not sure whether the students have a good foundation since their time at school are cut short.

I completed my internship in February 1985, went on to complete my final year that year, and since returning in 1986 I had never returned to Taiping Textile again. I have only worked in the heavy industry since those days. It was my own choice. I thought it was not as much fun working in a covered area, and thought working in the the sun and the rain would be a lot more healthier. 

Taiping Textiles did leave me with a lasting impression of the working environment, and a few key points central to management.

The value of education; and the hardship of earning a salary for the general workers, and hence the need to have a minimum wage for all workers in Malaysia. Obviously I am sure no one gets paid RM200 anymore, like many were in the 80s, but I am reasonably sure whatever they get paid in 2010 aren't that much better.

In 2010, the maids are paid RM400, double than the factory workers of 25 years ago.

But nothing has changed really, if you were to consider inflation.

It's a pity, isn't it? Rakyat didahulukan?


I think I am going to be a lot of brickbat from a certain professor on my view of the current practices of internship by our universities. Take me on, prof! ;-)

What else did we learn today?

Minimum wage and Out at Five.

Enough lesson for the day!


  1. budakjawidinewcastleNovember 3, 2010 at 10:15 PM

    No 1): Gambaq kalender kat belakang pintu tu cantik la..haha

    No 2): While it is easy for a Monash students not to consider the internship place as a place for them to work after graduated, I am afraid certain local univ students do not have such luxury. Big proportion of students in local univ, ended up in the place where they did their internship. Shorter period of internship is not enough for both parties to evaluate each other. Well, I guess if a student doing intern in that company of yours, and you are happy with all his attributes, surely you want to snap him at the very first chance isn't it? On the students side, if he not happy with his experiences, he surely can change his direction on the other ways.

    3) But, its all opinion. You know what they said about opinion, it likes a**eholes, everybody got it and everybody thinks everyone else's stinks.

  2. Haha..aku dah cakap dah, mesti kena bantai ngan hang punya..kekeke..

    (Yes, zaman2 tuh mmg byk kalendar mcm tu..)