BENTONG, PAHANG, 10 MARCH :The Convocation Ceremony for 500 empower Bentong participants at the Bentong Chinese Town Hall today proved that the empower programme, a human capital initiative of the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC), is definitely reaping returns. Cheered on by family and friends who filled the hall, the “graduates” of the Skills and Entrepreneurship Training under empower Bentong programme received their graduation certificates from Minister of Health, Y.B. Dato’ Sri Liow Tiong Lai, who is also the Member of Parliament for Bentong.

In his speech addressing the new graduates, Dato’ Sri Liow congratulated ECERDC for introducing the empower programme in Bentong, which is now already in its third year of implementation. “The empower programme is indeed a commendable approach in training the local residents who are in need of a helping hand to realise their full potential and improve their socio-economic status, regardless of ethnicity,” he said.

Chief Executive Officer of ECERDC, Dato’ Jebasingam Issace John said empower was first launched in Bentong back in 2010, and today, the town has delivered the top achiever among the nine empower districts within the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).

“Our overall top achiever is Puan Habsah Johari, a housewife-turned businesswoman who is now earning about RM20,000 a month. This is a remarkable achievement, considering that she had no working experience prior to participating in our empower programme,” Dato’ Issace said.

He added that the success of empower lies in its unique approach, whereby in addition to integrating confidence-building and motivation, the programme also provides support to its participants after they have completed their respective courses.

“Of the 500 graduates today, 93 per cent or 466 participants have already started their own business,” said Dato’ Issace. “Of these, 38 participants have opened their own shops or stalls, and 426 participants are already earning additional monthly income of between RM800 and RM1,500. On top of this, another five participants are currently earning about RM5,000 to RM20,000 in a month, which is indeed an impressive achievement.”

It was a rapid rise for the highly motivated Puan Habsah who enrolled in a cooking course under the empower programme. With her newly acquired knowledge and skills, she started a home-catering business in 2011 and subsequently in 2012, she won a tender to operate a canteen. This year, she became the proud owner of the family-run Yummy-Licious Chicken Rice restaurant at Bentong Prima. “Puan Habsah is an inspiration for others, proving that when there is a will, dreams can indeed turn into realities,” said Dato’ Issace.

Certified trainers have been selected to conduct empower courses over a period of ten months at the empower Bentong Centre. The courses are conducted on weekends, for three to four hours for Malaysians above the age of 18.

empower is a twin-pronged human capital development initiative of ECERDC which focuses on Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for adults and Academic Skills Training for examination-year students in the East Coast Economic Region (ECER). Human capital development is vital for the rapid transformation of the ECER economy and in this context, empower targets academically weak students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and adults who are unemployed or underemployed, single mothers, those in low-paying jobs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

empower Bentong programme was first implemented in April 2010, with the participation of 400 students and 600 adults in April 2010. It was officially launched on 31 July 2010 by the Menteri Besar of Pahang, Y.A.B Dato’ Sri DiRaja Adnan Yaakob. Initially, 10 courses were offered comprising cake baking, bridal makeup, cellphone repair, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), cooking & hawker centre management, computer& networking, teleservice, as well as mobile phone repair.

In 2011, more courses were offered which include sewing & designing, 1Malaysia Cooking, as well as wiring & plumbing. empower aims to enhance the skill sets and confidence of adults and improve the academic grades of students so that they are not left out of the ECER’s new prosperity. Programmes offered reflect the needs of the job market as well as that of the community.

empower is currently being implemented in nine ECER districts namely, Bentong, Temerloh, Raub, Cameron Highland, Lipis, Kuala Pahang in Pahang; Bachok and Jeli in Kelantan; and Kemaman in Terengganu. As at the end of 2012, a total of 11,426 participants, comprising 6,776 students and 4,650 adults have benefitted from empower. Upon completion of the courses, it is estimated that up to 30% of participants will gain employment, while the rest will have sufficient knowledge and practical experience to start their own business, and the ability to generate income of between RM600 and RM1,500 per month, or even more.