CHANGE: Locals are taking up jobs they previously shunned to make ends meet
Imran is a worried man. The 33-year-old Bangladeshi was making good money until several months ago.
Armed with a trimmer, he would make his rounds on a motorcycle in a number of housing estates in Bayan Baru, Penang, to cut grass.
For an hour's job on lawns, mostly about half the size of a badminton court, he would earn RM20-RM25 per trim.
On a good day, especially on weekends or during the festive seasons, he could make about RM75 a day. He used to earn about RM200 a week from "potong rumput".
Not bad considering it is only a part-time job because he works full-time as a dishwasher and general helper in an eatery in the night time.
Many locals, especially youngsters, have shown keen interest to take up jobs in fast-food eateries.
In all, Imran, who claimed he is in the country legally, used to earn about RM1,600 a month. Of late, he has seen his fortunes dwindle. Some locals have been making their rounds, encroaching on his territory to also "potong rumput".
It was a job once regarded as less dignified, but many have taken it up to supplement their income.
Many locals, especially youngsters, too, are familiar faces in car wash outlets and eateries, including trendy outlets. These are good signs in Malaysia.
Either hard-pressed for a living or simply wanting to earn extra cash, many Malaysians, especially low-income earners, are taking up extra jobs, moonlighting to boost their livelihoods.
Back to Imran. He said it was a matter of time before Malaysians would take back many of the jobs that locals had shunned and were later filled up by foreigners.
As such, the government's recent call to fast-food restaurants to give priority to locals when hiring workers is timely.
As announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin after he chaired the Cabinet Committee on Foreign Workers and Illegal Immigrants, many locals, especially youngsters, have shown a keen interest to take up jobs in eateries like McDonald's, Burger King and Pizza Hut.
It is equally assuring that fast food-restaurants are receptive to the committee's call.
Change is inevitable. And changes must be made after careful study and be carried out in phases to not disrupt the balance between job supply and demand, considering many economic sectors, especially construction and plantation, are dependent on foreign labour.
Penang Federation of Malay Students information chief Ahmad Yaqkub Nazri said the fact that there were more than two million foreigners employed in almost all of the nation's economic sectors proved that jobs were aplenty.
"There is no real unemployment in Malaysia. Just ask any migrant worker and he would say Malaysia is a land of bounty."
He said all must adjust considering the uncertain global economic environment. By adjusting, he meant policy-makers, employers as well as the Malaysian labour force, which he described as not fully tapped, must keep transforming and progressing.
"There must be a good match between educational opportunities and job availability, which is a major cause of unemployment among graduates.
"In cases where job opportunities are few, graduates must learn new trades or skills and take up jobs different from the courses they had majored in in university."
As such, it is not a far-fetched option for graduates to turn to potong rumput, but not the Imran-way, of course. They could transform these less-dignified jobs into thriving businesses with an organised workforce.
They could revolutionise potong rumput and turn it into a major economic activity, one which employs a huge workforce of skilled grass-cutters with knowledge of lawn care and landscaping.
Noor Adzman Baharuddin | email@example.com is a NST Alor Star bureau chief NST Opinion Columnist 12/01/2014