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Moving into management

Expats tend to dominate management positions at foreign firms and organisations in Cambodia, but education and experience is ensuring local staff are climbing the ladder

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Preap Kol, country operations director for US-based Angkor One, reckons a mix of expats and locals are ideal in the workplace.

MOST international companies in Cambodia, and many local ones too, tend to appoint foreigners to senior management positions rather than recruiting from the local talent pool.

Preap Kol, country operations director for US-based Angkor One, a website and technology business, said a range of factors were behind the exclusion of local staff from senior ranks of companies.

Some simply preferred to employ staff from their own countries, while others believed local hires lacked the education or skills for positions of responsibility.

However, Preap Kol said there were numerous advantages to employing Cambodian staff in management roles. In fact, if a foreigner and a local both applied for a position at his company, and both had competitive qualifications and experience, he said he would prefer to employ the local.

"Cambodians know and understand their own social and political history, as well as understanding cultural sensitivities," he said. "They also speak the language, which allows for effective and efficient communication, which is the key to success in all aspects of work and business."

He added, however, it was preferable to have a mix from the point of view of a multi-cultural working environment.

For Sandra D'Amico, managing director of human resources and recruitment firm HR Inc, it was simply a matter of time and experience.

"I don't think it's a question of what's holding Cambodians back from getting there, but I think it's a question of time, allowing people to get enough experience to take over those senior positions," she said.

"The workforce in Cambodia is young; it's only really been going since the 1990s. It's all about gaining experience at the end of the day, and you get management skills through working."

Preap Kol said the key obstacle to more Cambodians in management ranks was a lack of higher level analytical skills throughout the workforce. More intellectuals and think tanks were needed to encourage "thinking outside the box".

The companies spoken to for this article - ANZ Royal, United Nations Development Program, Angkor One, HR Inc, ACLEDA Bank and British American Tobacco - all agreed that the shortage of Cambodians in management positions was a reflection of the early stage of Cambodia's education system and the lack of practical  experience among graduates, particularly in international companies. They were all positive the representation of Cambodians in senior management would increase over time.

Most companies are already working towards transferring jobs from internationals to Cambodians, each in their different ways.

When ANZ Royal opened its doors in Cambodia in September 2005, an initial shortage of local talent meant it employed foreigners in key senior roles. Now, of a team of 520, only 10 expatriates are still employed, Sou Moniveark, the head of human resources, told Education & Careers.

The company hoped to have the majority of employment localised within three to five years, she said.

"Our aim in the future is to localise as many expatiate positions as possible, and I think  this will give both benefits for the company and the local staff,"she said.

"In order for our business to be sustainable in the future, we need local people to do jobs expatriates have previously done, so we have been trying to find opportunities to fast track local people," she said.

To that end, ANZ Royal has pioneered a  "Localization Program", which involves sending talented staff off shore for between 12 and 18 months for training and to gain experience.

Five have so far been sent to ANZ banks in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, and three have returned. One is now a regional manager, one is head of finance and the other is the manager of trade and international services.

According to Sou Moniveark, the offshore experience is designed to increase the technical ability of staff and develop their confidence in making decisions in a senior role.

ANZ has also been in discussions with universities to identify the best students and take them on for management training and grooming for senior roles.

"We want to ensure that people see themselves growing within this organisation and that it offers them career opportunities," Sou Moniveark said. "We are very focused on retaining our staff and including them in the development program."

At UNDP, they recently hired two new international communications officers as well as two new Cambodians  to take over their role in two years' time.

 "What we do is have internationals and nationals working together and learning from each other and sharing their knowledge," said Samyith Seng, the human resources manager at UNDP.

"That is the best way."

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