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Garment workers make clothing at a factory in Kandal province in 2013.
Garment workers make clothing at a factory in Kandal province in 2013. Vireak Mai

Training centre to help locals climb ladder at garment firms

The Garment Manufacturer Association of Cambodia (GMAC) will launch its new vocational training centre next month, providing courses aimed at upgrading the skills of Cambodian workers in a bid to replace the middle-management positions currently occupied predominantly by foreigners.

The Cambodian Garment Training Institution (CGTI) was built with a $3 million loan from French development body Agence Française de Développement (AFD). Construction broke ground last September inside the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.

According to Ly Tek Heng, operations manager at GMAC, foreigners occupy about 8,000 of the 700,000 positions in the Kingdom’s garment sector. He said the new vocational training centre will help reduce this foreign component by training Cambodian workers as high-level fashion industry specialists, such as merchandisers, fashion designers and pattern makers. It will also enhance quality-control skills.

“Currently we have to hire expatriates for some management positions because our Cambodian workforce cannot do it,” Tek Heng said, adding that employers in the apparel industry are pushing to use a lower-paid local workforce to reduce operating costs.

“The training institution will help our Cambodian workers to get higher wages and help factory owners to lower their costs of hiring people from abroad,” he explained.

GMAC members have set aside nearly $700,000, in addition to the $3 million loan, to cover the centre’s operations for the first three years. CGTI will operate three courses of up to
four months duration with student enrolment billed at $140 per course.

Enrolment will initially be only for workers employed in GMAC member factories, but will eventually be extended to the public.

Tek Heng was optimistic that once Cambodians were skilled enough to obtain middle-management positions, it would also help to smooth out industrial relations and reduce workplace conflict that arises from cultural misunderstandings in foreign-owned factories.

Lim Sovannaren, an administrative executive for Akeentex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean-owned company that produces jackets, shorts, pants and swimwear, said the firm had not registered any of its nearly 1,200 workers for courses at CGTI. However, she hoped that her employer would support her application to enhance her skills.

“It would be good to have a training course that provides teaching specifically towards the industry that I am working in,” she said.

Soeng Sophary, spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, said that while there is still vast potential for Cambodians working in the garment sector, workers need vocational training to foster productivity and enhance skills to promote long-term economic growth.

“If the Cambodian workforce can upgrade from low skill levels to higher skill levels they will receive higher wages,” she said. “That would show that we have enough human resources to support the growth and the investment in the garment sector.”

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