Cambodia Must Bridge Skills Gap: Report

Cambodia must work to close the skills gap between its labor force and the domestic job market in order to maintain its economic growth, according to a report released on Monday by the Asian Development Bank and the International Labor Organization.

“Cambodia: Addressing the Skills Gap,” says the country has made “great strides” in terms of economic growth since 1999, but adds that this has chiefly been accomplished on the back of its four main economic sectors and that sustained prosperity requires both economic diversification and a more skilled labor force.

“So far, economic growth in Cambodia has been largely based on four sectors: garments, tourism, construction, and agriculture,” the report says.

“Attaining sustainable growth, however, will require further economic diversification and intensification of existing activities that will rely on an expansion of the current skills supply.”

The report notes, though, that increasing skill levels among the country’s workers will be a challenge.

“At the moment, Cambodia’s labor force has relatively low skills and low educational attainment, and skill shortages are already apparent,” it says, adding that despite some improvements, “a significant proportion of workers have not attained the level of education required for many intermediate and higher-skill jobs.”

In an interview, Sandra D’Amico, managing director of HR Inc., said the skills gap was a real concern for companies operating in Cambodia, and that the shortage of skilled labor often led to the hiring of multiple people for one position.

“Sometimes they split jobs,” she said. “Whether it’s the automotive sector, or whether it’s the construction sector, certainly, [there is] a big lack of skills.”

Ms. D’Amico said that in order to address the gap, the government needed to focus on strengthening public education and incentivizing the private sector to provide technical and vocational training.

“I think that the approach with any technical, vocational training right now needs to be the government engaging with the private sector—giving you buildings, giving you land and incentivizing you to train in a particular sector.”

Stephen Higgins, managing partner of corporate consultancy firm Mekong Strategic Partners, also said the skills gap was taking a toll on the productivity of firms operating in Cambodia.

“[The skills gap] creates productivity issues where you have more staff to do a task than you would in Vietnam and in Thailand because of those educational issues,” he said, adding that the country stood to benefit most from increasing investments in education.

“The most fundamental reform is simply spending a lot more money on education in Cambodia, all the way through. This is something that is a long-term investment—better teachers, better schools—and that costs money,” Mr. Higgins said.

“You’re probably looking at a generation, realistically, but if you don’t start somewhere, then you’ll never get there.”

Ros Salin, spokesman for the Education Ministry, said the ministry had already initiated reforms to address the skills gap.

“We try to increase the number of high schools in remote areas so that when students finish [lower secondary school], they can move to the high school level nearby their accommodation,” he said.

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