Thots b4 blogs!

Wrinkled and old, but smiles like gold!

There’s an expression that goes something along the line of “You know you are doing something right when others start to disapprove of you.” While I’m infinitely appreciative for those who have enjoyed my thoughts shared through this column all this while, it was a welcome change when I received my first critic to last issue’s jottings.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about why entrepreneurs should consider hiring or retaining the more experienced but older segment of the workforce, and that the government should extend the age of retirement beyond 58.

The reader bemoaned my lack of consideration for the younger generation of workers and the pool of fresh graduates that are struggling to land a job. He or she also noted that if the older folks were to be kept longer in an organisation, the younger workforce would also find it tough to climb the corporate ladder.

Since it would take five full pages of this newspaper to share my views about why our fresh graduates are choosing to remain voluntarily unemployed, I would focus my response around how doing something out-of-the-box can often bring added benefits to our organisations and to our society.

If you are a gadget lover or an IT buff and would gladly spend the whole day at Plaza Low Yat instead of two excruciating hours of shopping with the missus, you would have noticed that most of the shops offered the same services.

Be it on the telecommunication floor – where everyone sells the latest mobile phones and accessories – or over at the two IT floors – featuring the same computer systems and repair services – there is hardly any differentiation factor in the entire six floors of retail space.

However, in one obscure corner that clearly defies all eyeball marketing theories, lies a distinctly hushed e-books retailer. While we wouldn’t foray into the legalities of his goods, what has kept me going back over the years was that his was the only shop that specialised in e-books.

While many around him sold the latest range of nifty handheld e-book readers, the owner in his mid-40s, sold fiction and non-fiction books, computer user manuals, software and application guides, encyclopaedias, National Geographic and even recipe books all electronically stored in a CD or DVD format.

More than just product variation, the Penangite has been operating at the same spot for more than 10 years and has grown to rely on using retirees in his shop. He claimed that the two workers, in their late-50s, are more dedicated in carrying out their job, and that they stay longer than the younger staffs.

The owner who currently has two other 20-something workers complained that the younger staffs frequently go on medical leave, while former youthful-looking employees have even stole items from the shop. Hopefully, those e-books have helped these youths expand their knowledge!

Coming back to my detractor, I recalled an interview earlier this year with an elderly employee of an established delivery service provider. The 60-year-old despatch rider has been doing what he does for the last 40 years… and as testified by his award-winning SME employer, clearly continues to very efficient at his job.

Pix by ABX Express

Rajoo is still the first to arrive at the office before 7.00am each workday. The grandfather meticulously plans out the rest of the day’s delivery schedule before getting on his trusty bike for his rounds.

According to his supervisor, he still knows his routes and service area better than most of his other peers. In addition, he has also undertaken the role to train and improve his younger colleagues’ level of customer service. Seemingly, despite his age, he remains effective and most of all cheerful in carrying out his duties.

My point is, if our younger human resources are in totality more superior and serve the organisation better, than I would be the first to put my hands up and say “Give those jobs to the young so that they can help our businesses grow.”

But as it stands, the uncle still remembers what my favourite e-book titles are, and my parcels still get delivered the very next day by the friendly grandfather instead of ending up alongside 1,000 other letters stashed away by a 23-year-old postman.

Desperate housewives for hire

It was one of those rare occasions where I found my nose in a book at the university’s hushed library. Truth be told, my head was not entirely tuned in to research methodology theories on a day that I had a bunch of 24 – Final Season DVDs awaiting my return back home.

The sniffling was muffled but had continued on over the last 15 minutes. I had respectfully ignored the weeping lady seated on the adjoining table earlier not wanting to intrude her privacy. But 15 minutes on, the ever-inquisitive journalist residing inside me took over.

A courteous tap on her arms, some initial probing on her well-being, and 30 minutes later, I was headed towards my car visualising myself as agent Jack Bauer with a Heckler and Koch semi-automatic pistol in my hand walking in search of recruitment agents.

My new 54-year-old acquaintance had just completed her Masters degree in education, but was finding it tough to cope with the lack of job interview requests, let alone employment offers. Having left her job as a nurse with a private hospital, the grandmother had taken the path to improve her academic credentials hoping to land herself a position in the field of nursing training.

She buried herself in text books for three years; took the public bus each day commuting between her home in Rawang and the university; turn her back on criticism from friends and colleagues for supposedly wasting her time – they said that at her age, she should be taking care of the grandchildren.

At the end of three years of coping with assignments, exams and lost friendships, all she had awaiting her were rejections like “We are looking for younger candidates”, “You are asking for too high of a salary”, and “You are not qualified for the job”. How does an employer justify telling an experienced nurse of 25 years that she is not qualified enough for his one-year-old training centre? Perhaps the Heckler and Koch can change his mind.

This reminded me of my own mother’s post-retirement dilemma several years back. A couple of months after she had retired from her administrative position in a public-listed conglomerate where she had spent the entire 30 plus years of her career with, she enquired on several part-time job postings.

It was neither aeronautical engineering nor did it require nanotechnology skills. These were merely data entry positions and SME office management, work that she could have accomplished with eyes closed. In addition to a supplementary household income, it was also to fill up her time between being a housewife and the occasional mahjong sessions.

On the few instances where the recruiter did bother to respond, it was either my mum was too old or that they were only willing to pay a derogatory remuneration for her services. My parent’s well-trimmed garden is very happy that she did not accept those belittling offers.

Besides being hopeful for lower petrol prices and an increase in personal tax exemptions at the upcoming Budget 2011 announcement on October 15, I am keeping an ear out for the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s expected declaration on raising the retirement age of civil servants from 58 to 60.

From this, it is my hope that the private sector, starting with our SMEs, would take heed and open their doors to the country’s widely experienced workforce. I strongly believe that senior citizens can contribute to improving an SME’s operational and administrative processes, particularly those that have worked with more established multinational corporations and public-listed organisations.

And since the level of our customer services delivered by the younger-looking segment of our population has in general always been a bane to the growth of our service industry, it may not do much harm to see if our seniors are more eager to serve us better.

While many of our neighbours’ population retires between 60 and 62 years of age, I cannot see why we are not able to continue employing workers beyond the age of 65 if they are still able to willingly contribute to the society.

I am pretty sure that a 25-year veteran nurse would have much to share and teach her younger peers. Just as I am also sure that my mum’s three decades of administrative experiences would help an inexperienced SME owner find his feet in the business world. But then, her perfectly manicured garden could disapprove of this.

Well-oiled ideas to a healthier lifestyle

It was unusual traffic congestion along the route leading back home on a weekday night. As the World Cup telecasts were already over and Paul back to its peace and quiet of the German zoo, there were only two other reasons for traffic to come to a near standstill on Malaysian roads.

First, and most often the case, is the opportunity to spot the potential winning 4D lottery number on the vehicle number plate of the unfortunate accident that happened across the other side of the road.

Second, which was part of the reason this time around, is the hike in petrol prices. For some reason, Malaysians consistently feel the need to have their car tanks filled to the brim to save a handful of ringgits minutes before the next day’s new price. Will they not have to refill their tanks again in three days time?

On this particular day however, it was added traffic woes as our teh tarik-loving population was also rushing to stock up on their sugar supply after it was announced a 25 sen increased to existing prices.

We will not discussed about the pros and cons about the latest move by the Government, as you would surely have read countless validations by now about the country’s fiscal situation, increased usage of public transport, complaints by minimum wage workers, and reduced diabetes amongst our folks.

We will not dispute the all-too-familiar line that the subsidy rationalisation plans “would seek not to burden the people” even though my regular mamak restaurant announced that he will be increasing their beverages by 20 sen next month.

I tried unsuccessfully in pointing out to him on how many glasses of coffee and tea he could make with a kilogramme of sugar as compared to his ‘rationalisation’ of covering his increased cost from each customer. After arguing, I ordered a cup of “kurang-kurang gula” but still got charged the same price as a regular one.

On the other hand, this being an entrepreneurship-focused column, we will instead take a peek into the crystal ball to see how Malaysian entrepreneurs could possibly benefit from this latest round of price hikes (they always do anyway as it’s often the modestly-paid journalists who suffer).

The restaurateurs will always be the first to respond to increased prices. Their justification: more costly liquefied petroleum gas for your Cantonese fried kueh teow; higher fees charged by the lorry drivers delivering fresh produce from the wholesale markets; and of course more expensive sugar.

GPS systems manufacturers would be offering cheaper devices to entice road users to spend less time in traffic jams and to allow drivers to reduce travelling time in getting to their destinations.

Futsal centres have reduced their rates in order to get more Malaysians off the roads after office hours. Cheaper fees for sports bring reduced traffic congestions, healthier lifestyle, increased isotonic drink sales, and improved quality of Malaysian football.

Local bicycle makers will be going on nationwide roadshows to convince universities, private colleges, ports and airports to make it compulsory to use bicycles within their premises. The result; reduced automobiles usage and increased exercise activities.

Cake shops and bakeries will construct a sugar-free or less-sugar corner where cakes and pastries are sold for less than the usual sugar coated items. This would significantly attract the health-conscious market segment to their shops.

A housewife offers a car-pooling service to cater to her pool of neighbourhood friends going to the market each morning. She earns extra income while reducing the number of cars on the road and getting her friends to save the environment.

And finally, the mamak restaurant owners would be giving discounts or reducing the price for customers who demand “kurang-kurang gula”. This way they would ensure the support of their regulars, and along the way, help the nation in bringing down the increasing obesity rate amongst Malaysians.

After all, having too heavy of a population that is not able to fit into a car or a motorcycle would be dreadful for an oil-producing nation like ours that still firmly depends on the RM30 billion dividend payments from the national oil company.

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