In the Business of Transforming ‘Bad’ Jobs To ‘Good’ Job

As the world continues to lurk between socio-economic, political and financial uncertainties, Malaysia has demonstrated resilience, remaining positive that growth will start to pick up in 2017. While the government is committed to strengthening the fiscal position, we are grappling with a more serious problem.

Malaysia’s universities and colleges churn out an average 200,000 graduates annually, but one out of four remain unemployed six months after graduation according the EduAdvisor website (What You Didn’t Know About Fresh Graduate Unemployment in Malaysia). According to the Malay Mail, among the 400,000 unemployed individuals in the country, 161,000 people are degree holders (Graduates Among 400,000 Currently Unemployed in Malaysia, Says Minister). Among the factors cited for this situation are the lack of problem-solving and critical thinking skills; a poor command of the English language; and a lack of communication skills. If the country’s graduates have such difficulty securing employment, what then of the non-graduates? The State of Households Report 2014, published by Khazanah Research Institute, highlighted the disparity of income from one state to the other, a glaring urban-rural divide. This makes the choice of staying in a hometown less developed than urban centres such as Klang Valley, Penang or Johor less appealing.

Adding fuel to fire, is the rising Age of Automation which is more pervasive than ever before. Routine, menial and mundane occupations, such as parking-ticket attendants and laundromat assistants are being rapidly replaced by machines. Large segments of the workforce will have to be trained today to prepare them for value-added jobs in the future. Non-routine jobs which require multi-tasking and people skills remain safe from automation. For now.

The need of the hour and the greater responsibility of employers and businesses are to be part of the 21st century job creation engine. What can be done to ameliorate the current unemployment situation? How can businesses create more than a thousand jobs that are sustainable and that provide liveable wages? More importantly, how can the jobs created benefit the mass strata of the Malaysian population, the Bottom 40 percent?

As businesses, we need to change the paradigm of ‘employment’ itself and look at the ‘potential’ and the existing (limited) skill sets of these unemployed and underqualified individuals, rather than their formal qualifications and industry experience. Beyond offering employment, the next-generation of business models should be designed to help build new talent pools for the industry, breaking the convention.Companies should look at hiring people to launch a business rather than launching a business that will create only specific jobs.

We see new models created by companies such as UBER (ride-sharing) and Airbnb (abode-sharing), which have transformed the way people travel and find accommodation and fulfilled the demands of today’s consumer society. These businesses have created such a difference in their fields that governments around the world now find themselves caught between embracing these changes and incurring the wrath of their connected citizens by sticking to the status quo. The immediate reversal of a ban imposed on ride-sharing services in Indonesia is an example of the growing influence of the consumer society.

Dattel was an idea seeded with a greater purpose in mind — of capturing the voices of Malaysians and mapping Malaysia for its potential through a massive and revolutionary Big-Data exercise. As we started our journey three years ago, we recognised there were opportunities for change that went beyond Big Data, which entailed transforming the employment landscape. To this current day, the ‘informal’ sector of conducting surveys and collecting data in the field is manned by workers who are unemployed, underqualified or in a “transitory” stage of their life (those who are in between seeking permanent or better paying jobs). These workers serve long hours in the field and, more often than not, earn a monthly wage that is lower than what is deemed liveable. The impact is beyond what we may see on the surface. Yes, the obvious negative impact is on the business of collecting quality data, which is compromised for a variety of social reasons.  What we may not realise is that these data collection agents and the hundreds and thousands who are working in similar informal jobs may never be integrated into the mainstream employment market or economic growth for that matter. Clearly, the evolution of the sector itself (whether its market research, data collection or big data) will be stunted. This is a worrying trend highlighted by Gartner, a world renowned American research and advisory firm (How to Choose a Data Broker).

In view of this, Dattel entered the market with a disruptive business ethos. We decided to say NO to part-time and informal employment for data collection agents. Today, we have more than 100 full-time data champions (Field Data Associates, or FDAs) on our payroll, helping us to deliver our value proposition of ‘Data with Integrity’ by ‘People with Integrity’. At the core of our brand is ‘integrity’ and we are creating ‘good’ jobs that will improve the quality of lives, offer rewarding careers and help gain new skill sets, which we hope will increase their employability in the marketplace. Through this, we are pushing our agenda of being a game changer in the Big Data industry, instilling integrity into our staff from the bottom up and upholding kaizen — a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency. Our commitment to this ethos was clearly on display in the first convention held for our FDAs, headlined by a simple theme, “The FDA Revolution”.

Currently, we are one of only a few organisations in the country paying way above the national minimum wage for those with only a high-school qualification or less, whose job does not involve sales. The top 25 per cent of FDAs have consistently been rewarded with a take-home pay of more than RM5,000, higher even than Malaysia’s median household income. The middle 50 per cent, enjoy a take-home pay of more than RM3,500. Yet, we believe that it is only the start. Our aim is to increase the average income of the top 80 per cent of the FDAs to exceed the median household income of RM 4,845 (Department of Statistic’s Report of Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey 2014). And all this is happening without the FDAs having to migrate to the more expensive urban areas.

How can we afford it? Firstly, our recruitment system identifies and motivates high-potential talent to take on the roles of DATTEL FDAs. More than just data collection agents, our FDAs undergo professional training to ensure they are well-equipped with skills to become data collection experts in the near future. Secondly, we’ve adopted mainly home-grown breakthrough technology which range from zone-mapping Spotter apps to Voice Algorithms, which cuts down on inefficiencies associated with the traditional ‘survey’ industry. In short, we’re minimising cost while raising productivity, emphasising efficiency and increasing value significantly. Not to mention, setting new benchmarks in among data suppliers and information aggregators.

We need more ideas and partners to join Dattel’s mission to transform the ‘bad’ jobs into ‘good’ jobs, offering disadvantaged Malaysians an opportunity to be part of high-potential, high-growth industries of the future.

Visit us at for more information, or write to us if you are seeking a ‘good’ job.


Katy Hull, Understanding the Relationship between Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction* (PROMOTING PRO-POOR GROWTH: EMPLOYMENT © OECD 2009)

“Good” vs. “bad” jobs. Avirgan et al. (2005) Use the labels “good” and “bad” jobs to distinguish between formal work and informal work in a number of developing countries, noting that earnings are consistently lower and working hours longer in the informal sector.