The demand for Korean language skills continues to grow as an increasing number of South Korean employers look for Cambodian youth to join their workforce, offering higher wages for low-skilled labour than employers in most other Asian countries.
Cambodia is a top country of recruitment for South Korean companies, according to Tae-hoon Park, director-general of the Korean Employment Permit System (EPS) Centre in Cambodia.
“Small-sized Korean company owners in particular like Cambodian workers because they are very diligent and work very hard,” he said yesterday.
He added that South Korean people like the character of Cambodians, and many appreciate the fact that most Cambodian workers are Buddhist, the predominant religion in their country.
However, the demand is not one sided, with almost 55,000 Cambodians taking the Korean EPS Topik test this year, according to Park. Foreigners must pass the government-issued language-skills exam with basic proficiency in order to be granted a permit to work in South Korea.
Competition is fierce, as the South Korean government says it will only take 10,000 Cambodian workers this year.
Park said that many Cambodians are eager to work in South Korea because they can earn higher salaries as well as employee benefits that are not available at Cambodian companies. The majority of jobs are for unskilled workers in the construction, agriculture and fisheries sectors.
“The minimum wage is much higher in Korea, about $1,000 per month, though usually they can make $1,500 per month if they work on Saturdays, so I think that this is the main reason that Cambodians [emigrate],” he said.
“Also, in Korea, the employer can provide meals and a house for employees.”
Seng Pich Sreypov, who studies the Korean language in addition to fashion design at the Phnom Penh International Institute of the Arts, plans to finish the final two years of her four-year degree program at a university in South Korea.
“I want to work in Korea after I graduate,” she said.
“Korea is very developed and after I work there I want to come back to Cambodia to share what I’ve learned.”
Lekh Kagnchanarysa, who left Cambodia four years ago to earn a bachelor’s degree in maritime transportation in South Korea, said that the language skills she gained there expanded her job opportunities in both the South Korean and Cambodian market.
“When we speak Korean language, we will have good opportunities from Korean companies [in Cambodia],” she said. “We are valued by our Korean boss and receive starting salaries that are between $600 and $700.”
She said that jobs that require English or Chinese as a foreign language are much more competitive because almost everyone studies those languages in Cambodia.
However, Korean is a much rarer but highly sought after language skill, so there are better job opportunities for Cambodian Korean speakers.