Despite offering fruitful opportunities for those qualified for the work, Cambodia’s skilled labor sector continues to lack sufficient employees to meet the country’s needs and propel the economy upward, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday.
Those with technical skills and knowledge should help to enhance training practices that will improve the country’s productivity while making Cambodians more employable, he said.
“If it was me, I would choose to study technical skills—skills for fixing agricultural machinery and small-scale transportation channels,” Mr. Hun Sen told graduates from the National Technical Training Institute at a ceremony on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island.
“Why? Because we need technical skills,” he said, adding that “it makes money, indeed.”
Using the island—a hub for construction projects in recent years—as an example, the premier listed the need for electricians, plumbers, air conditioning installers and repairmen to keep the infrastructure up to date and running smoothly.
In the past, he added, the large majority of agricultural activities across the country were performed using cattle—compared to only a sliver now, which has bolstered the need for skilled mechanics.
In addition to increasing the number of workers in the country, however, Mr. Hun Sen said training standards should also be increased.
“We need to strengthen the technical capacity of our existing workers to get better productivity and quality,” he said. “I hope that all my nieces and nephews here will use the techniques that they have learned so far to find jobs, as well as to raise the level of knowledge.”
In May last year, the Ministry of Education announced the construction of the country’s second Institute of Technology in Kompong Speu province after putting a freeze on the registration of new universities to dissuade more students from studying business and finance.
Two months later, the ministry began piloting a job counseling program in Svay Rieng province to direct students to vocational training after high school graduation. In July, Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said counseling was also being piloted in Battambang province before being incorporated into the country’s teacher training curriculum. But while experts agreed that measures to advance skilled workers would be beneficial to Cambodia’s economy, they said obstacles remain.
According to Education Ministry statistics, retention of students has been a challenge. In the 2014 to 2015 academic year alone, 62,373 of the 262,072 registered students in grades 10 to 12 dropped out before the year’s end.
These drastic dropout rates need to be addressed before the country can “slowly move towards increasing the number who get vocational education,” said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank’s regional integration office.
“This year, I think the challenge is to create a workforce that is trainable, rather than trying to train them in these skills,” Mr. Menon said.
Any vocational training that is offered must be relevant, said Tun Sophorn, the International Labor Organization’s national coordinator.
To make workers hireable, “you need to improve or revise the training curriculum to provide the needs or the skills standards needed by the industries, and then the delivery of these skills [by] improving trainers,” he said. This would require the private sector’s input and feedback on training.
But even among those who have required skillsets, “Cambodian employers and blue-collar workers are not well connected,” said Federico Barreras, a development programs manager for local technology NGO Open Institute. This mismatch creates a need for enhanced coordination, he said, prompting the organization to recently develop an online employment information service.
Nonetheless, he said, “vocational training is actually a good thing. It would be another factor that would help Cambodians to have access to more jobs locally.”