Low-Skilled Workers Left Behind as Job Markets Go Online

Despite recent growth in online job postings, low-skilled workers in Cambodia are largely being omitted from the shifting market, leaving them with few avenues to find opportunities around the country, industry experts said.

Niels van Klooster, country director of recruitment for the website Everjobs, cited one example: 13.35 percent, or just under 1 in 7, of all searches on the site last year were people looking for openings as drivers, making it one of the top five in-demand positions among job-seekers.

Construction workers rebuild a section of Phnom Penh’s Phsar Chas that was destroyed when a fire ripped through the market in 2014. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

But there are currently only 24 driver positions posted on the website, he said, about 1.2 percent of 2,003 Everjobs’ total vacancies in Cambodia. The gap represents a lag in the expansion of the online job market for low-skilled workers.

Searches for driver jobs “are an indication that people who are looking for lower-skill job opportunities [are also] now going online,” Mr. van Klooster said.

Ken White, managing director of BongThom, another jobs site, said the online market for low-skilled work was similar to the situation for skilled workers two decades ago.

“When BongThom started 17 years ago in 2000, the only way to get any jobs information in Cambodia—there was only one place to get it, and that was from The Cambodia Daily. You had to buy The Cambodia Daily every day, which was very expensive for them,” Mr. White said.

Low-skilled workers rarely even have that option, said Silas Everett, country representative for the Asia Foundation.

There is only limited information for low-skilled jobs like construction and garment manufacturing in Cambodia, and most job-seekers rely on friends and relatives or posters outside factories to find opportunities, Mr. Everett said.

“Most available information for low-skilled labor is in the food and beverage sector,” he said, explaining that it was likely that those businesses were adopting more Western operation styles.

Moeun Tola, president of labor rights group Central, said that for low-skilled job-seekers in Cambodia, it was easier to find information about opportunities overseas than about those close to home.

“When job information in the country does not reach them, and they receive more information about jobs abroad, they may decide to migrate abroad instead,” Mr. Tola said.

The problem was the same for potential foreign investors who cannot find information about the local labor market, he said, potentially hampering capital inflows into the economy.

“When investors want to invest, they will also consider the number of available employable population in their decision,” Mr. Tola said.

He said the Labor Ministry had established more than 10 job centers around the country where companies can post job announcements and job-seekers can get assistance for free, but that they had yet to gain traction among the public.

“Job-seekers tend to be reluctant, as they think this service would charge a fee, as it is run by the government,” he said, adding that it was often more convenient for many people to go to factories directly rather than traveling to the centers.

Open Institute, a local technology NGO, released research in September based on a survey with 315 migrant workers, 240 potential migrants and 239 employers in the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kompong Cham and Prey Veng. It found that an information gap for low-skilled work was a motivator for Cambodians migrating abroad.

“Even though there is an existing national employment demand and an excess supply [and] there is a perception that Cambodian jobs are good…they don’t connect with each other,” researcher Fed­erico Barreras said after the report’s release. “So clearly, there is an information gap.”

Mr. White, from BongThom, said there was space for a better solution.

“Even in everybody’s daily life in Phnom Penh—you want a maid, you want a nanny, a driver—this simple thing somebody can’t offer to you,” Mr. White said. “You need to ask friends.”

Employers of low-skilled workers were increasingly looking to advertise online, despite the website being known more for job postings for university graduates, he added.

“Now the whole driver behind this is that technology is allowing everybody to have a smartphone. Everybody is going online,” he said. “One of the first things they will do is look for a job.”

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