I was in my fourth year of university studying for a mechanical engineering degree, and we had 16 weeks of internship, or industrial training requirement to be fulfilled. Although I was studying in Melaka, I chose to find an internship where my parents were living, at that time it was in Kuantan, Pahang, as a way to live with and spend more time with them before I graduated (I had known then already that after graduation I would find work in another town away from them).
I got a job interning at a small to medium sized local chemical factory, that made sealants and glues, including performing the filling and packaging for these items for the local market. The salary was pittance, back then in late 2008 the offer was only RM300 a month. I had to work from 8.30am to 5.30am from Monday to Saturday, and my only off day was on Sunday. It wasn’t my first choice but I was glad to get a job, and I was bright eyed and ready to get my first experience of working.
How was the actual experience? My supervisor was a older man in his forties and though he was nice to me, it was obvious that he was a busy man and did not have a lot of time to actually supervise me and give me specific tasks. I was seated at the Quality Assurance department , where I did some work also for the company’s Quality manager and befriended the technicians and QC supervisors under him which consisted of only 4 persons.
The first week there, after formal introductions, I had to find my way around the site and understand what the factory produced and what its operations actually were. I was given a tour of the plant, which consist of 2 main factory building, an office block and a large freezer storage area for the chemicals that had to be temperature controlled.
So how did my internship went? With hardly any contact with my supervisor except for a once a week check up, I spent my time learning the operations of the factory, and the working conditions of the staff, and offered work to other departments. No matter how small the tasks, I wanted to do it , partly to avoid boredom in office, and partly due to I wanted to get the most out of this internship.
It’s worth to mention that along the way I made some friends and acquaintances. I observed the difficulties faced by the lower income workers and foreign workers there. One of the employees I befriended planned to abscond and leave the company without any notice to her boss, I kept quiet about it as promised, and she did left without notice during my time there. As she was one of the more capable technicians, her boss was quite upset about it. Other things I learned was how little the new female chemical engineer’s salary was in that company (it was low, her salary was below RM2,000 for a graduate with 2-3 years of experience), and how the elderly factory cleaner was scammed RM20,000 to help her kid. I learned that the funniest and most talkative employee in the factory ( who was one of those I became friends with during my time there) actually had family issues and was not communicating to his family at home despite living with them. This was why, he always stayed back late after work instead of going home.
I also saw how some of the more capable foreign workers, actually took a step back from being promoted because he did not want to have the added responsibilities and complexities at work. Looking back, it is interesting to note that when people don’t see you as a threat, since I am a temporary intern, they really open up to you and are willing to share their personal stories. Aside from that, I even got to attend my first Malay wedding as a co-worker, that was fun. This to me was added insight on the people aspect and made me more empathetic to the working class.
My first week I offered to re-organize the filling for the Quality Assurance department, I standardize their filing system and relabeled their files with printed fonts. To my QA managers disdain, he had a bit of a difficulty finding the original files since I relabeled it, in fact some files he had to remove ( by remove I mean rip open) the new printed labels to see the original written fonts underneath.
I then got work to re-draw the drawings / schematics of the packing materials from hardcopy paper and digitized it into the company computer. These were hardcopy paper drawings of say the packing design for the UHU glue or super glue tubes. If ever the hardcopy files of these drawings went missing, there would be no more copy of how the correct packing dimensions were to be for the machine inspections. They did not have any AutoCAD or drawing application, so I used excel and paint. It did the job as best as it can, at least the written dimensions were there for reference.
Later on I offered to help to inspect the machine /equipment operating conditions in the daily morning rounds, I followed the quality inspectors and learned how to read the pressure gauges and electrical gauges on the packing equipment, compared it with the referenced allowable operation range and recorded it down. Then I even helped with QA inspectors to sort out defective tubes of glue and learned how a good crimping on the edge of glue tube should look like versus one that is defective due to faulty machine issues.
Other weeks I was allowed to assist in the maintenance section where the maintenance guys showed me how to replace conductive tape on their heat sealing machine boards. There were many boards depending on the product type, and we had to climb up a rack to reach for the boards at the top if needed. I recall that was one of the few times the company director noticed me, it was when I was helping to take down a sealing board, now looking back that may have raised some concerns over ESH (Environmental Safety and Health) topics.
Later on I offered to create standard operating procedure (SOP) visual guides on how to operate and maintain some of the machines in the factory. They had a large pneumatic compressor outside the factory that was used to compress air, and the pressurized air was used to power the equipments in the factory. I referred to the equipment manual, borrowed the company camera to take actual photos of the compressor operating parts and made a visual guide and detailed steps on how to perform the maintenance. After printing out the guide, I had to laminate the pages, and this part was one of the harder tasks to perform.
This is an important part of the story. The factory only had one laminating machine. It was located in the general manager’s office. His name was Mr Goh, and I thought he was young to be the GM of the factory, and if I had to guess an age he would be in his late thirties. Specifically, the laminator was near the door in front of his desk. Every time I wanted to use the laminate machine, I would check with his secretary first, if he was not in, I would ask permission to enter and to use the laminator. There was one time, however, as I was about to complete my task, he returned to his office, so I awkwardly nodded, finished the task and left.
Now to cut the story short, on my last week of the internship, one of the senior manager’s in the company, Mr Cham, talked to me and said that they appreciated my work and ‘enthusiasm’ at work although I was an intern. He even told me that in the past they had another male intern, who would literally come in to work and read comics at his desk. I was happy that I contributed to the factory/company, although most of what I did was also to get the most of my time spent there.
The next day, the General Manager saw me and approached me as I was leaving office after work. This was the first time he actually spoke to me. He was a very direct man from what I recall of our conversation.
He asked me when I was graduating, and how much money I would accept to come back to work there. I was shy, taken aback, but flattered. I couldn’t think straight then and there, so I said I wanted RM1,800 (remember the experienced female engineer I spoken to earlier in the story? I benchmarked a figure a few hundred higher than her salary ). He said yes to the proposal, and asked me to contact the human resources executives and to keep in contact. That was it.
On my last day of work, I got my pay slip as usual from the HR executive, but it was not for RM300. It was RM1,000. It may not sound like a lot now, but back then in 2008, it was a huge sum for me.
That was my first ever job offer and bonus, and it gave me a boost, even my parents were happy about it. The extra money went to buying myself a new phone ( I upgraded from my Motorola to a Sony Ericson that could actually take some decent photos). I went back to complete my final 4-5 semesters in university, but did not return to the internship company after I graduated in middle of 2010. However, I can say that I did not regret my internship experience, from both the knowledge gained and the relationships I made with some of the people there, although it was only for 16 weeks.
Few things to take away from above.
1. The Managers do Observe and Notice
At least, the good ones will tend to. It helped that the company was not large. But if you are interning and you want to get a job offer back where you worked, do the tasks well and seek for opportunities for new tasks , whether your superior offers you or not. With a good impression, it will be easier to seek a job offer, and get a recommendation from your superiors/supervisor at the end of your internship.
2. Attitude Matters
I got all the work I could get my hands on, I tried to find areas of improvement in the factory, and I requested for new opportunities to learn , even from the maintenance team or any depart that had work.
3. Make the most of the Internship Experience
The job was a tiring 6 day a week work requirement, the pay was low, and the company was small and had a lot of manual work with no invest in systems or applications. But as an intern, there are opportunities to find and to get some learning out of your time there. Keep in mind that it is an internship for a limited time, meaning this is not your permanent job. Even if you do not return, the exposure you have in this period may be your only chance to experience the type of technology , products and work culture in this unique company. In my case, my first job after graduation was in a totally different manufacturing sector, so my only experience with chemical sealants and packing machinery was during my internship.
Hopefully this article will help some of the students who will be undergoing their internship in near future, or who are dismissive of getting jobs at smaller local companies instead of larger established companies. Make your internship worth it, and maybe you may also get a bonus and job offer at the end of it.