Starting next month, the ministries of education and labor will offer job counseling to students in Svay Rieng province as the first step in an effort to better match employment opportunities in the country with the skills of youth entering the workforce, the education minister said Monday.
“Unemployment is less than 5 percent, which is very low,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said of the country’s working-age population. “But the problem is not the unemployment, the problem is the low wages offered to low skilled employees.”
Mr. Chuon Naron explained that with a more diversified economy, the demand for workers in the electronic, manufacturing, agribusiness and logistics industries has risen. He said that the government would seek to show students that blue-collar jobs do not always mean low-paying careers.
“Sometimes people think that a [technical] job is a low status job, which is why we should make vocational training more attractive,” he said.
Mr. Chuon Naron and Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng have been placed at the head of a working group that will take on its first task next month, offering a job counseling program at Svay Rieng University open to middle and high school students, Mr. Chuon Naron said.
“We want to provide counseling for students in middle school and high school, so that they can go to vocational training programs,” which the labor ministry already has in place, Mr. Chuon Naron said. The ministries will work together to create “vocational guidelines” for teachers to help students acquire skill sets currently in demand, he added.
A statement published by the two ministries last week said that the working group would also be charged with lowering secondary school dropout rates, which reached 19 percent last year, by increasing access to vocational training.
Santosh Khati, Unesco’s education specialist in Cambodia, said vocational training offered by the Labor Ministry needs to become more attractive and accessible as part of reforms to upgrade the country’s workforce.
“[I]t does not have high status and that is not only in Cambodia, it’s a common problem everywhere,” Mr. Khati said of vocational training. “It is not perceived as the same level of importance as formal education, like universities.”
“But at the same time, hard skills in a particular job—for example in manufacturing—what are the things that should be done?” he added. “You will get different examples from different parts of the world.”
Sandra D’Amico, managing director of human resources firm HR Inc., said demand for skilled workers is growing in the construction, tourism, services and garment sectors, adding that the trend would only accelerate with efforts to better integrate regional economies.
“I think we need to adapt the education system not only to Cambodia’s needs but also looking at how we prepare people for a globalized environment,” she said. “The demand for employment because of Asean is going to be enormous.”