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Biz Talk: Assessing Cambodia's HR needs

Sandra D’Amico, Managing Director of HR Inc talks to the Post about the changing workforce


From the salary surveys HR Inc has done in the last few years, are there any trends developing, or did 2009 change everything?

It’s almost impossible to forecast salary trends. However, at the moment what we see is low-level salaries are quite flat but at the three- to five-year experience mark for professionals, salaries jump quite dramatically.

There’s been a few shake-ups over the years – not just 2009 – and the changes have affected the workforce in different ways.

For example in 2006, we had the huge influx of new banks and new telcos – that’s when salaries really moved. Because there were insufficient skills in the market to fill skilled and management positions, people made significant career jumps not necessarily because they had the skills to fulfill the position. Many companies felt the pressure and salaries were distorted in the hunt for talent.

I think the shake-up was good for some companies because the lost talent meant improved focus on looking after the workforce.

But after almost 10 years in Cambodia, I can say the workforce is gaining more experience. We’re seeing a much bigger pool of talent in supervisory and management level coming through.

Some people say Cambodia’s human resources constraint is primarily a lack of strong management personnel. Is the problem the small size of the management pool or is it that management simply lacks ability?
Both I believe. A lack of talent will change in the coming years, as I mentioned, but developing management capacity is critical.

We hear some of the biggest challenges are language/communication and cultural barriers. In the manufacturing sector, for example, you have foreign managers that can’t speak Khmer, and a workforce that only speaks Khmer, with little exposure to working with foreigners. But that’s changing – as people gain more experience we’re seeing managers with more ability to really manage, motivate and effectively communicate with employees.

Is better management also a question of better education at a tertiary level?
Yes, certainly, education is important, but the question of getting into a management position is not only a question of knowledge. It’s a combination of knowledge and experience, and the experience is growing year on year.

A lot of donor money has been invested in primary and secondary schooling, and that’s really where the challenges with education have got to start.

What are the key challenges between the education and workforce sectors?
There is a gap between what education provides and what industry needs, but I don’t think Cambodia is alone in that regard.
There’s a huge lack of industry and education linkages where the demand side is driving what the supply side is needing.

I think the focus on education should be TVET – Technical Vocational Educational Training. This would mean people are taught practical skills in a shorter time that can lead to employment faster. From there they can pursue further higher education.

From a recruitment perspective, there’s a huge need for skilled people in more technical jobs – air-conditioning, plumbers, waitresses, IT, the hotel industry – who can speak a second language – English or Chinese.

In many developed countries there is a looming skills shortage with the majority of the workforce retiring soon. Does Cambodia have any population concerns like this?
Cambodia is completely the opposite. We don’t really have a retiring workforce – that’s why social security is so important. At the moment we have the challenge of creating enough jobs for this massive baby boom coming into the market.

The government said 2010 was the year of the economic empowerment of women. Do you think the needs of men and women in work need to be addressed differently?
Yes, I think so. No question about that.

The environment is changing: Women need to be professionally active from an income perspective, but they also want to be involved. However, they have more pressure to look after the family. I think the Labour Law has some provisions around maternity leave, but employers need to have policies that are flexible towards the needs of women. I think, yes, women do need women-friendly policies to help them be professionally active and to keep them in the workforce.

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