Time and Date

Monday, July 18, 2011

Creating skilled planters

Saturday July 2, 2011-Star News--> It is tough to attract the younger generation to start a career as a professional planter in Malaysia nowadays.

The stigma of being an “orang estet” working in oil palm or rubber plantations which is traditionally linked with rural poverty, lack of basic amenities and poor social networking, has never been a good motivation for young agricultural graduates or those in agri-related fields.

More often than not, a plantation job is the last choice of young professionals in Malaysia, says Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP) chairman Daud Amatzin.

Besides the scarcity of plantation land and stagnating production in Malaysia, he says local planters have to deal with severe labour shortage which many claims to be due to poor interest among the locals to work in estates, unattractive wages and job-hopping among the skilled plantation workers. This has resulted in an urgent need to hire more foreign workers.

“It is paramount to see a succession of young professional planters in the management capacity to replace our existing mature planters.

“This is to ensure a continued growth of the agriculture and plantation sector in Malaysia,” Daud tells StarBizWeek after the Ninth ISP National Seminar 2011 in Penang recently.

The 92-year-old ISP is one of the oldest planters society in Malaysia. Most of its members are the captains of the plantation industry as well as major plantation companies.

It was established for the development and advancement of the professional interest in the plantation industry - from the management to the estate workers.

The ISP modus operandi constitute the Technical Education Scheme via diplomas, fellowship and masters - the avenue for planters to obtain professional qualifications at the Fellowship, Licentiate and Associate levels.

The ISP in collaboration with University Putra Malaysia also offers Masters in Science in Plantation Management.

In Malaysia, the well-known personnel with the FISP title include industry consultant and former Malaysian Palm Oil Association CEO M.R Chandran, Malaysian Estate Owners Association Boon Weng Siew, Felda Global group president and CEO Datuk Sabri Ahmad, Sime Darby Bhd group chief operating officer Datuk Wahab Maskan and TH Plantations Bhd director (R&D and Agronomy) Datuk Dr Mohamad Hashim Ahmad Tajudin.

ISP also offers general plantation workers (school leavers) training and certification whereby the first level is the competency based Certificate in Plantation Practices and the second level is the Certificate in Plantation Management which is a good stepping stone for their career prospects in the industry.

“ISP has diligently been contributing in terms of training and certifications towards the creation of skilled and professional planters in Malaysia but we believe more can be done to bring local planter to the next level of dynamism,” adds ISP chief executive officer Azizan Abdullah.

Under the certification programme, ISP annually trained about 300 supervisors of the field and from 30 to 50 new executives coming into the industry.

Going forward, ISP would like to train more plantation managers as “we believe they are equally important as the estate workers”.

“So far major plantation groups like Felda and Sime Darby have been very supportive of ISP training and certification initiatives,” adds Azizan.

On the setting up of the Institute of Malaysian Plantation and Commodities (IMPAC) which modus operandi is almost similar to ISP, Daud says ISP welcomes IMPAC as “it will help to complement ISP effort towards making the planters' profession more attractive to the local workforce.”

The challenge for young planters is that they need to know beyond planting and harvesting, he adds.

“They must understand the entire value chain of the industry involving workers, optimum management of basic resources, by-products utilisation and value drivers such as end products, understanding the complex value chain of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification as well as logistics such as shipping and storage.”

Other challenges include the competition to increase the quality of the commodity and attracting bigger markets coupled with mitigating the damaging criticisms from environmentalists accusing the plantation sector for polluting the environment.

Meanwhile, Tradewinds Plantation Bhd general manager (plantation advisory) Ramesh Veloo points out that the demand for professional planters will be on a rising trend due to to expansion of land for cultivation of oil palm in Malaysia, Indonesia and new palm oil growth areas like Africa and South America.

At the same time, the sector is also facing a decline in good quality planters due to job hopping within the industry, migration of planters to other plantation based countries as well as inadequate rewards and remuneration packages.

The younger generation on the other hand are reluctant to get involve in the sector because of the perception it cannot generate high income and better job opportunities.

“Plantations and agriculture are categorised as 3D jobs (dangerous, dirty and difficult),” adds Ramesh.

He says that measures to be considered include reviewing the workload of managers, new approaches to attract fresh graduates, ensure the quality of managers via enhancing the skills and knowledge and provide appropriate remuneration.