PUSH­ING BOUND­ARIES, BREAK­ING BAR­RI­ERS

The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is a male do­main but three young women are break­ing the stereo­type.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

WOMEN are not a com­mon sight at con­struc­tion sites. They are a mi­nor­ity when it comes to jobs that are dan­ger­ous, dif­fi­cult and dirty.

Such trades are more com­mon for men but at MMC Ga­muda, there is a group of women who thrive on get­ting down and filthy to suc­ceed.

These young women have ex­celled in their re­spec­tive ar­eas while play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role in build­ing Malaysia’s first Mass Rapid Tran­sit project (KVMRT Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang line or Line 1), which will be com­pleted at the end of next month.

Line 1 com­prises both el­e­vated and un­der­ground por­tions; the lat­ter in­volves tun­nelling more than 40m down into the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s busy city cen­tre.

Mean­while, Line 2 (also known as the Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ser­dan­gPu­tra­jaya line) is sched­uled for com­ple­tion in 2022 to serve as crit­i­cal ur­ban rail lines in the Klang Val­ley.

The first phase of the largest in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try re­quired var­i­ous ex­per­tise in­clud­ing ar­chi­tects, plan­ners, de­sign engi­neers, safety man­agers, traf­fic man­agers, tun­nellers and sta­tion con­struc­tion engi­neers.

While it is a male dominated field, three women have proven that they, too, can ex­cel in the in­dus­try.

Me­te­oric rise

Noor Af­fida Raf­fika Mo­hamad Nazari is one such tal­ented lass, who rose within five years to be­come sec­tion head of an un­der­ground sta­tion at MMC Ga­muda.

She was de­ployed at Maluri sta­tion dur­ing the con­struc­tion of MRT Line 1 for four years, and has been sec­tion head of KLCC East MRT Un­der­ground since mid-2016.

“As a child, I didn’t like play­ing with dolls or masak-masak ;my pref­er­ence was for build­ings and Lego sets. My par­ents were very sup­port­ive. I am also a bit per­sis­tent, and not at all girly,” shares Noor Af­fida, 29, a Ga­muda scholar.

In­stead of watch­ing car­toons, the girl from Pe­nang would be glued to doc­u­men­taries on the Na­tional Geo­graphic chan­nel. By the time she was 10, she knew she wanted to be­come an engi­neer in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

Her sin­gle-minded de­vo­tion to this am­bi­tion led to her ob­tain­ing a schol­ar­ship to study at Univer­siti Tun Hus­sein Onn Malaysia in Batu Pa­hat, Jo­hor. She even turned down an of­fer to study medicine after SPM be­cause of her fas­ci­na­tion for engi­neer­ing.

Noor Af­fida says, “It took only two weeks after writ­ing my fi­nal pa­per be­fore I started work. I just couldn’t wait to see the MRT un­der­ground con­struc­tion phase from the be­gin­ning! And it was ex­actly what I imag­ined it to be.”

Ini­tially, it took her some time to adapt to the male-dominated con­struc­tion in­dus­try but she did not let that in­tim­i­date her as she feels women can do just as well.

“It’s not easy and some­times I have to push hard but I wel­come the chal­lenges such as in­ter­fac­ing with sur­round­ing stake­hold­ers in the vicin­ity of my sta­tion. We walk the talk with stake­hold­ers. We take own­er­ship of the con­struc­tion work on site.

“This is not to say there are no com­plaints but we man­age it well. The work is not hard but deal­ing with hu­mans is more com­plex. I also have to co­or­di­nate with other de­part­ments so it’s a good plat­form to build mul­ti­ple skills,” she says.

Her days are long and within the blink of an eye, Noor Af­fida no­ticed her weight had been steadily in­creas­ing since she joined the work­force.

She re­calls, “I used to be a state hockey player and put on so much weight un­til I re­alised I couldn’t go on like this. One day, I was listening to a ra­dio sta­tion and the dee­jay was talk­ing about check­ing sugar lev­els. That’s when I de­cided to take charge of my per­sonal health.”

Noor Af­fida hired a per­sonal trainer and sprung into ac­tion. She’d hit the gym after clock­ing out, and work on her car­dio­vas­cu­lar en­durance while in­cor­po­rat­ing some weight train­ing. The trainer would put her through the phases three times a week while she’d spend an­other two days sweat­ing it out on her own. Over the past two years, she has lost more than 35kg.

“Now I feel more en­er­getic even when work­ing long hours. Life has been good and ev­ery mo­ment is a mem­o­rable one!”

o si t e re

A tiny spark can ig­nite a fire of huge pro­por­tions. It can hap­pen any­where, any­time and when you least ex­pect it.

As spe­cial­ist in­struc­tor, Arziah Mohd Ah­sim’s role in­volves con­duct­ing train­ing for all site em­ploy­ees work­ing un­der­ground on MRT Line 1.

When the job was first of­fered to her, she did not feel con­fi­dent she would be able to han­dle it but her su­per­vi­sor in­sisted she gave it a try.

Arziah rec­ol­lects, “My job ini­tially in­volved do­ing more man­age­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties and after a year, my boss asked me to try fire train­ing. A fire trainer had come from the United States and we all had to go for the train­ing. I re­ally en­joyed it. My boss must have no­ticed this and that’s how I landed this role.”

But first, Arziah had to con­quer her fear of the dark.

“I’m quite a tomboy­ish char­ac­ter. I like speed, mo­tor­bikes, cars, ex­treme stuff and take part in ob­sta­cle races. How­ever, when you throw me in the dark, I freeze! Slowly, I had to over­come this fear and learn how to move in the dark,” says the grad­u­ate in man­age­ment tech­nol­ogy.

She runs her train­ing once a week – ev­ery Tues­day in Ser­dang, Se­lan­gor, tak­ing in a max­i­mum of 10 trainees per class.

There are two stages to the train­ing – the first in­volves flashover fire­fight­ing, where ev­ery­thing burns in a con­fined space. The sec­ond stage in­volves a tun­nel fire sce­nario. And yes, ac­tual fire is used.

“First, I equip par­tic­i­pants with the the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge if a fire breaks out on site. They have to save them­selves first, not panic, and call for backup from the emer­gency re­sponse team,” ex­plains Arziah, 30, the sole fe­male in her depart­ment. She over­sees four ju­niors.

“The job is chal­leng­ing and often only half the par­tic­i­pants suc­ceed in com­plet­ing the course. The oth­ers can­not tol­er­ate heat or pain and have to re­take it. I’ve also sus­tained burns on my feet dur­ing my in­struc­tor train­ing. My boss called it baby burns, though it was still painful!”

The Sarawakian mother-of-one loves her job and can­not think of do­ing any­thing else as em­pow­er­ing.

She says, “I’m also en­cour­aged by the fact that man­agers and engi­neers on the MRT project pay more at­ten­tion to house­keep­ing rules.

I’ve found my niche here and in fu­ture, I’m think­ing of tak­ing classes in fire engi­neer­ing.”

De­vel­op­ing peo­ple skills

As site ar­chi­tect, Ili Mazhusna Mukhtar is en­trusted with putting the fin­ish­ing touches to the Maluri sta­tion.

Daily, she has to li­aise with sub-con­trac­tors and clients – ar­gu­ments and dis­agree­ments are part and par­cel of it. Some­times, she finds her­self be­com­ing sort of a “mid­dle-man” be­tween sub-con­trac­tors and clients and this is where her co­or­di­na­tion skills come in handy. That has also en­abled the 27-year-old to de­velop her one-onone skills, which is an as­set in her job.

As the only woman in the Maluri Ar­chi­tec­tural Build­ing Works Fin­ishes op­er­a­tions depart­ment, which con­sists of sev­eral staff, Ili feels ev­ery­one is treated equally. There is no gen­der bias.

“They push me past my lim­its some­times and I like it be­cause I can im­prove. I’m a very peo­ple per­son but I’ve learnt from my su­pe­ri­ors how to be firm and not be taken for a ride. I can man­age peo­ple bet­ter now. I’m also a very de­tail-ori­ented per­son and that comes in handy when it comes to fin­ishes,” says the Univer­siti Te­knologi Mara grad­u­ate.

In­evitably, there have been times when things did not go as planned but Ili takes it all in her stride and con­sid­ers it a char­ac­ter-build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“My goal is to some­day be the res­i­dent ar­chi­tect of a project and my cur­rent role is a good plat­form to work my­self up the lad­der. Sur­pris­ingly, be­ing a woman is this male-dominated in­dus­try is pretty em­pow­er­ing,” says the cheru­bic, af­fa­ble lady.

Ili puts in more than 10 hours on the job ev­ery­day, leav­ing her lit­tle time to so­cialise. But, be­ing a fil­ial daugh­ter, she spends at least once a week with her par­ents and sched­ules some time to meet with friends.

She says, “The long hours don’t af­fect me be­cause there is noth­ing not to like about the job. I feel proud when I walk into Maluri sta­tion and look at its aes­thet­ics. That’s part of my con­tri­bu­tion! Noth­ing can top that feel­ing.”

Ar­chi­tect Ili ad­mir­ing the com­pleted fea­ture wall in the Merdeka MRT sta­tion. — Photos: MMC Ga­muda

As spe­cial­ist in­struc­tor, Arziah’s role in­volves con­duct­ing train­ing for all site em­ploy­ees work­ing un­der­ground on MRT Line 1.

Seen here against the back­drop of the Kuala Lumpur city sky­line is the Se­man­tan North Por­tal, which is the in­ter­fac­ing point be­tween the un­der­ground track and the el­e­vated track of the KVMRT Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang line.

As the only woman in her depart­ment, Ili has learnt how to be firm and not be taken for a ride.

By the time she was 10, Noor Af­fida knew she wanted to be­come an engi­neer in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try.

Arziah had to con­quer her fear of the dark be­fore she could han­dle fire train­ing. — Photos: IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star

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