As Cambodia vies for middle-income status, labour experts said that it’s paramount that more investment be driven into the country’s technical and vocational education training (TVET) programs in order to respond to the demands of the labour market and be more competitive in the world stage.
Although only in its nascent stages of development, there has already been some very identifiable — and some would say, troubling — gaps in Cambodia’s TVET sector.
One of the most glaring issues is the mismatch between student enrollment in TVET programs and industry demand for their skills.
Out of the 250,000 post-secondary graduates in 2014, only three per cent came from technical and vocational fields like agriculture, science and engineering while 50 per cent finished business administration, according to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports figures.
“TVET enrollment is very low,” said Asia Development Bank’s (ADB) senior social sector officer Sophea Mar. “Parents and youth treat TVET as a second choice because they think it will lead them to become just ‘normal’ workers and not professionals. This mindset is totally wrong because people who graduate from these programs are in such high demand that they get jobs very easily.”
Another issue, said director Vibola La of Pour un Sourire D’enfant Institute (PSE), an NGO that offers TVET for marginalized youth and adults, is the lack of quality training programs in the country.
“There is a very big need for qualified skilled workers but the problem is that the sector is not growing quickly enough as there’s only a handful of these programs, and their quality also definitely needs to be improved,” La said.
PSE launched a new technical skills program for high school dropouts last week where students are enrolled in a free one-year skills bridging course that will teach them math, chemistry and physics. The coursework will allow them to enter technical high schools and eventually technical and vocation higher education institutions.
NGO Mith Samlanh also offers several vocational skills training programs on areas such as: cooking, beauty, electronics, car and motorbike mechanics, and agriculture, among others subjects. Their seven centres in Phnom Penh serve around 200 former street youths from age 15 to 24 years yearly.
“But while these programs are helpful, they can only do so much,” said Mith Samlanh project manager and former vocational training centre manager Vak Dneng. “We want to expand, but there are just not enough resources, and the government does not have adequate finances to support us.”
According to Mar, the Ministry of Economy and Finance is interested in increasing the budget allocation in TVET as “they understand its importance.”
The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has also highlighted the growth of the TVET sector as one of its main goals under the new Higher Education Vision 2030 released in April 2014.
To encourage prospective students to choose TVET, the ministry and its partners have begun their outreach to schools promoting the sector.
Outreach itself, however, wouldn’t solve the issue, La said.
“What we need are investors or public-private partnerships (PPP), which could really expedite the sector’s growth,” he said, adding that he’s spoken some companies that have expressed interest in investing over the past years.
“Institutions need to mobilize support from the private sector through PPP because at the end of the day, it’s not just benefitting the economy or the country but the public primarily as well,” Mar agreed.
MoLVT officials refused to comment.