Local Migration For Work

Oct 08, 2013 1 Min Read


We all know of people who have packed and moved across the country for a multitude of reasons. What are the factors motivating such moves, and are they worth it?

The National Census in 2000 conducted by the Department of Statistics Malaysia estimated Malaysia’s population as of July 2010 to be 28,334,000. Of these, 5.72 million reside in Sabah and Sarawak while the other 22.5 million live in Peninsular Malaysia.

The population distribution is uneven. Even though Sabah and Sarawak are less developed compared with Peninsular Malaysia, the huge gap in the numbers is still not justified. Surely, there has been a great deal of local migration involved.

Bright lights, big city

Ipoh, ranked the sixth largest city in Malaysia – with a population of 657,892 based on statistics of local authority areas from 2010 – has its fair share of emigration each year.

Why move to a city? Many peers place great importance on lifestyle. Growing up in Ipoh where entertainment is not really a thriving industry, it is obvious why the Klang Valley is a bigger attraction.

Cities offer a variety of ways when it comes to keeping young people occupied – shopping malls, cinemas, theatres, eateries and even nightlife; there is something for just about everyone. Most people – who can afford it – buy into the lifestyle that comes along with living in a city.

Bigger paychecks

When I was attending interviews for jobs in Ipoh, the salary offered was much lower than what I knew the going rate was for Kuala Lumpur. I ended up taking a job – for experience – receiving half the pay I could have earned in the corporate sector in the city.

Small towns dish smaller salaries. They are pale in comparison to those offered in the cities. The average starting salary does not apply across borders. However, when you take into account factors like cost of living, it averages out to be almost at par.

Career prospects

When I was a fresh graduate, my lecturer encouraged me to take up a job in KL instead of Ipoh. He made a point about how there is something about the fast-paced lifestyle that pushes an individual forward, preventing the person from becoming stagnant. This is true as most graduates find working in the cities more challenging.

In the city, multinational corporations are everywhere and working for bigger companies means wider exposure. There are aspects like worldview that come into play as well. Meeting people from around the world will change your mindset. And let’s face it, having a reputable company on the resume does wonders for an individual.

However, through different economic regions the Government has established – Northern Corridor Economic Region, East Coast Economic Region, Iskandar Malaysia, Sabah Development Corridor, Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy and Labuan International Business and Financial Centre, businesses are beginning to flourish.

So don’t assume that well respected job opportunities are only available in the city. With investment being channeled in these regions, highly sought after careers can be found in the most unlikely places.

Small town charm

All the same, people do migrate to smaller towns. There is something about these slow-paced, laidback existences that people somehow crave and need at certain junctures in their life. There are some things unique to towns that people in the cities envy.

Sense of community

When I lived in Kampar, my friends and I would play with our neighbour’s son in the evenings and this was often followed by conversations with his grandparents. They too would occasionally send food over.

Through this, my friends and I had a sense of community which is quite lost in cities, something which Fischer discusses in her book To Dwell Among Friends: Personal Networks in Town and City.

In smaller towns, people are more likely to know their neighbours and have actual conversations with them mainly because the community culture is very much alive and important.

What this does, is provide a sense of security among the citizens because everyone looks out for one another.

Upbringing of children

Moving away from the single income family, raising the children proves to be quite a challenge regardless of location. Juggling work and family life seems to be a big challenge for parents.

Karsten mentions in her study Family Gentrifiers: Challenging the City as a Place Simultaneously to Build a Career and to Raise Children, that households that can afford it, leave the city as soon as they think of having children or shortly afterwards.

Admittedly, there are certain advantages of raising children in a small town. Here, the sense of community is one very important factor that comes into play because adults tend to look out for one another’s children as well.


Growing up, my father talked about retiring in the countryside, with goats, chickens and home-grown vegetables. While he passed on before realising those dreams, I believe it was not just the thought of one old man.

Having spent their youth toiling and working hard for the family, most retirees ideally want to live in a less hectic town.

Traffic jams, noise and air pollution are things they want to leave behind and lead a quiet existence.

Ellen Wong, 32, teacher, Westlake International School, Kampar

Born in Sabah, Wong spent her adulthood in Kuala Lumpur. Then in 2012, she packed and moved to Kampar to be a part of Westlake International School’s teaching staff. She sums up the move as an act “to seek for pioneering experiences and a team of colleagues that share a similar vision in the education arena”.

She claims the growth and development of her career and leadership skills had stagnated in KL as she was working with a bigger corporation with all higher level of decision-making positions being occupied.

“The move has helped to widen my scope of learning and given me more opportunities to express my ideas,” she says. Additionally, Wong, mother of a toddler, is enjoying having more time to spend with her son.

Christina Cheah, 34, technical manager, Lafarge Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Having moved from KL to Penang and on to Ipoh before returning to KL, Cheah, a science graduate, dabbled in advertising, marketing and copywriting before settling for an industrial position.

One of the main benefits of migrating, she says, was exposure to various lifestyles, cultures, mentality and up-bringing.

“One can never truly understand a community without living in the community itself,” she remarks. Understanding its culture was key to her as it was the means to relate to her workforce and all these led to effective management.

Raja Nurul Iylia, 24, lawyer, Messrs Zaini Mazlan, Shah Alam

Upon completing secondary school, Raja Nurul moved from Ipoh to KL with her family due to her parents’ work commitments. She believes she has gained more experience personally, as established firms and prominent lawyers are mostly based in KL.

A challenge she faced was the cost of living – trying to spend her hard-earned money wisely and fight the urge to shop. She enjoys living in KL but is anxious about starting a family. “I’m afraid that living in a hectic city will cause stress and pressure on my children. So, I think there is a possibility that I’ll move to a small town but only once I’m stable and can afford to open my own firm,” she shares.

Melisa Ann, 30, editor, YTL, Kuala Lumpur

Twelve years ago, Melisa, left Bukit Mertajam and never looked back. Back then, she knew she couldn’t stay on in Penang because there was not much opportunity for growth. Small mindsets and racial issues made her feel like she needed to be in a more diverse setting to really grow.

Taking up a course in MMU Cyberjaya, she would later join YTL and build a career. Having spent more than a decade away from her hometown, she says that “accessibility to arts and culture, music events, diverse individuals and making friends from around the world” have been the perks of living in a big city.

Final Thoughts

Do you fancy towns or cities? Either way, you get to migrate locally should you feel you crave a different setting; I believe Malaysia has a good mix of both. Yet, I dread to see the day when Malaysia develops to a point where small towns cease to exist or develop beyond recognition. Local migration may not be for everyone but it’s always an option.

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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