From A Clerk To CEO: Here’s What We Can Learn From Shamala

Shamala was one of my students who graduated with Professional Diploma in Management about 10 years ago. When I first met her, she was a ‘High School Drop Out’ working as a Personal Assistant to a Managing Director of a company specialized in IT. Like most of our adult students, she was very passionate and committed to learning. However, I could sense the inferiority complex in her. There was a doubt, ’am I qualified to be a student of an established university like Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’?
Today, Shamala is the Founder & CEO of a successful MSC Status company with HQ in Technology Park Malaysia. Her organization specializes in IT Expert Outsourcing services to few major corporations in Malaysia. She is only 30 years old and has big plans to make her company a regional industry leader within the next 5 years. Now, she is an extremely confident and an inspiring leader. I was so touched when she told me that UTM’s Professional Diploma in Management and her passionate lecturers contributed significantly to her success, both personally and professionally.
Shamala is among thousands of students who benefitted from School of Professional and Continuing Education, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (SPACEUTM). My company, SMC Trainers Malaysia is a smart partner of SPACEUTM. My journey as an enabler and facilitator for lifelong learning for about 28 years has been extremely fulfilling. Reflecting on my journey, I have noticed successful learners like Shamala often demonstrates the following characteristics:

Ownership. Successful adult learners often demonstrate ownership for their personal and professional growth. They are not dependent on their HR Department for learning and development opportunities. Instead of blaming others, these students look for opportunities for learning. As the saying goes’ when the students are ready, the teacher will appear’. I am glad that I had many opportunities to ‘appear’ for these students who took ownership for learning while being in a confused state on the art of learning. Our professional development programs were designed based on adult learning which we appreciate the experience of our students. Classroom and post-module assignments were carefully designed to provide opportunities for experiential learning. Of course, my BSc (Education) qualification from USM about 28 years ago was very handy in navigating the complexity of teaching and learning.

Commitment. Successful adult learners consistently demonstrate the commitment to learn. Like most adults, they ‘wear’ multiple hats: parents, spouse, employees, siblings, friends, etc. These roles come with various obligations and often distraction! Commitment to stay focused and ‘do not major in minor things’ seems to be the mantra for success. Weekend classes mean they may need to say NO to many events like parties or early morning EPL football game of their favorite team. Making these decisions is part of the informal learning experience of decision making. In today’s knowledge-based economy, we are paid to make the decision. Adult learners have many opportunities to apply ‘decision-making muscles’. I am lucky to share my personal experiences in managing many challenges while pursuing my part-time studies as the adult learner. Juggling between the roles as father, husband, employee and a student was an amazing experience. After wearing graduation robe six times, I have enough stories to convince and inspire my students.

Hard Work. Dreams don’t work unless we do! While ownership and commitment are very important, nothing works without hard work. Successful adult learners are crystal clear about the amount of hard work required to graduate. Waiting for the children to sleep to start doing the assignments may lead to late hours. Juggling the report to boss and lecturers assignment may result in missing many teh tarik sessions with our buddies. Many of our working adults have English language barriers. Again, it requires hard work to refer dictionary and Google Translate continuously to understand what the Mat Salleh is trying to tell in the reference books and professional articles. One of the major elements of our Professional Development Program is the presentation skill in English. Many of my students were literally shivering while doing their presentation in English, especially in the early modules. With hard work, I have seen a massive transformation in their presentation skills within 1-2 years. Our own Samudera Toastmasters Club provides great opportunity to experience and enjoy the magic of Toastmasters in facilitating public speaking skills. Toastmasters were helping millions of people worldwide since 1924 in public speaking. My own experience as the District 51 (Peninsular Malaysia) Champion of 2012 Toastmasters International Impromptu Speech Competition is a great advantage to help my students with public speaking.

Facilitating adult learners for the last 28 years has been an exciting and fulfilling journey. I had the privilege to facilitate many ‘high school dropouts’ to realize that the best version of them is yet to be discovered. Lifelong Learning is the ‘light’ for personal discovery. I wish to be remembered as the practitioner and ambassador of the quote ‘from cradle to grave, life is a continuous learning process’. There are thousands of Shamala out there who wrongly perceive themselves as ‘high school drop- out’ and underachievers. Are you one of them? Do you know any ‘Shamala”