Demobilized soldiers will be asked to practice smiling later this year as part of a plan to turn retired RCAF members into highly skilled tourism workers, Regent School of Business representatives said Tuesday.
The art of hospitality will be taught to 350 former soldiers in a $460,000 sustainable development project funded by the British government and implemented by Regent starting next month, Regent Director Neil McLaren said Tuesday at the Sunway Hotel.
“It’s hard to imagine a functioning economy without active participation from the private sector,” said British Ambassador Stephen Bridges. “There is a skills vacuum in Cambodia, and that needs to be filled.”
Since 2001, the government has laid off approximately half of the 30,000 soldiers it plans to retire in order to save about 1 billion riel (about $250,000) in monthly payrolls, co-Minister of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath said. Continued demobilization efforts have stalled, however, due to limited international support, he said.
Bridges called the tourism training an “embryonic” effort to restore the dignity of retired soldiers, more than 90 percent of whom earn less than $25 a month and support an average of six family members, according to the International League of Foreign Khmer Students’ 2002 Assessment Survey of Demobilized Soldiers’ Needs and Vulnerability.
Applicants for the one-year program must earn less than $50 a month in their current jobs, and priority recruitment will be placed on women and disabled people, McLaren said. Selected trainees will take four months of English language, hospitality and tourism courses before being placed in the workplace of a private sector partner, ranging from hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and security forces. Full-time positions will be offered to soldiers upon completion of the program—if jobs are available.
Going from military service to customer service may prove difficult for soldiers. Sam Oum, PricewaterhouseCoopers human resource consulting manager and a retired soldier, said Cambodians in general are not service oriented in a “Western way.”
“They have different wants and needs than Western tourists,” he said.
“But I think Cambodians can go through the transition with less difficulty if they have appropriate support.”