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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Growing computer use leads students to favour IT training

Growing computer use leads students to favour IT training

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Universities say companies are keen to recruit skilled graduates, but with computers becoming popular business tools in the Kingdom, demand often outstrips supply

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TRACEY SHELTON

Computer students in Phnom Penh. Demand for computer specialists is increasing in Cambodia as the IT sector grows.

WITH more Cambodians using computers at home and work, thousands of young people are turning to computer training as a strong career choice for the future.

One of the country's top computer training schools, the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said that strong demand means many of its students are recruited before graduation.

"The country is developing and applying IT in more and more sectors," said Ouk Chhieng, head of the computer science department.

The university says it has trained more than 3,500 undergraduate students and 100 postgraduates since 1997, with an average of more than 500 per year over the past few years.  

Ouk Chhieng said between 25 percent to 30 percent of graduates find jobs in the government and with NGOs, about 20 percent working part time or on temporary contracts. Most of the remaining graduates go on to run businesses themselves.

More than 2,400 students are enrolled in computer science at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, according to the department.

"Our students are very competent compared to others," said Ouk Chhieng.

Graduates needed

The job market for IT has softened with the economic downturn, but Ouk Chhieng expects that demand will pick up soon.

"If in this country we continue on the right track for IT growth, there will be more job opportunities," he said.

Sous Sakal, business manager at software designer Blue Technology, said the quality of local graduates has improved, but the lack of large companies in Cambodia acts as a glass ceiling for further development.

Local universities can produce quality students, but they need to be ... trained.

"I think local universities can produce quality students, but they just need to be trained to understand business. Smart students from schools are like diamonds that have not been polished," said Sous Sakal.

Blue Technology employs 23 Cambodians, with 13 working as permanent software designers. Most graduated from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

"I think locally produced software is more applicable here than overseas software because [the latter] sometimes does not work with Khmer characters," said Sous Sakal.

With more IT companies setting up in the Kingdom, Blue Technology is diversifying into different businesses and plans to expand regionally, he said.

"The Cambodian market is very small, but we see more opportunities to grow and take on more staff."

The company caters to local accounting firms, and said it charges between US$300 and $20,000 for a program, depending on the size of the business.

"We spend about one year writing a standard accounting program priced from $300 to $20,000 ... but the most popular software is about $1,000," said Sous Sakal.

A promising market

Erya Houn Heng, president and CEO of First Cambodia, a company specialising in system integration, said that Cambodia's low computer penetration rate makes it a promising market for future growth. 

Only about five percent of small and medium-sized enterprises in Cambodia are using computer systems, said Erya Houn Heng.

"We employ about 180 people in our two offices in Cambodia and Laos - most of them specialise in IT.

"All are local graduates of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Royal University of Law and Economics or SETEC University."

But he said that a lack of practical experience means the company spends heavily on on-the-job training.

"We spend about $500 recruiting each staff member. We have a five-step selection process with a standardised test, but they are required to have English competency as well," said Erya Houn Heng.

"We only hire three or four out of every 100 candidates, and fresh graduates without any experience will get $150 per month. Experienced staff earn $200 to over $4000," said Erya Houn Heng.

He said that a shortage of managers means that many employees rise from entry-level positions to management in less than five years.

"Our staff receives up to 18-and-a-half-months of salary in bonuses if they perform well," said Erya Houn Heng.

He said the company's success in Cambodia is prompting it to expand regionally.

"We plan to open offices in all Asean countries in the future," said Erya Houn Heng.

He said that the expansion plans may require the company to look abroad for talent.

"We need about 30 new graduates each year to match our growth, but higher education institutions in Cambodia cannot produce enough qualified graduates."

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