Unskilled workers have been hit hard by the impact of the global financial crisis. Graduates could also face the squeeze as companies consider scaling back recruitment.
Cambodia's university graduates are facing a tightening job market.
As the effects of the global financial crisis begin to manifest themselves in Cambodia through mass layoffs in the garment and construction sectors and a general downturn in tourism numbers, tens of thousands of new graduates preparing to hit the job market are facing diminishing prospects of finding work.
"One of the hardest-hit groups is actually the young people who have entered the labour market," Sukti Dasgupta, a specialist on employment and labour market policies at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), said by telephone from Bangkok. "There are very few new opportunities coming up - most of the new vacancies are being suppressed and the older jobs are being scaled back."
A recent study by the Cambodia Institute of Development Study (CIDS) for the ILO has documented how Cambodia, like other countries that have followed an aggressive export-orientated employment model, has been thumped by the crisis. "All these countries are in a lot of trouble, and Cambodia also definitely is," Dasgupta said. The CIDS research showed a net 27,000 jobs were lost in the textile and garment sector last year and that a further 19,000 jobs are expected to be lost in 2009. It also reported Ministry of Land Management figures that show that more than 30 percent of construction jobs have been lost as a result of the financial crisis, or around 15,000 of the 45,000 to 50,000 working at the peak of the construction boom in mid-2008. With demand for property down until possibly 2010, it is likely that more jobs will be eliminated in the construction sector in 2009, the CIDS report showed.
The tourism industry is also vulnerable to the effects of the global slowdown. Although there is no indication of job losses yet in the sector, according to CIDS, reduced hours and wages have been reported.
Most experts agree it is too early to predict the extent of job losses in the professional and non-tourism services sectors, but Sung Bonna, president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia, warned this month that a continued downturn in the construction and real estate sector could result in 150,000 jobs being lost. Job losses would not just affect construction workers and realtors, but all those working in related sectors, including lawyers, architects, planners and those in the construction materials sector, he said.
Denis Gambade, director of the Franco-Cambodian Chamber of Commerce (FCCC), said early indications are that rather than retrench the workforce, employers in the professional services sector are getting smarter and more targeted in their recruitment practices.
"Companies still need to recruit but the focus is more on quality than quantity," he said.
Sou Moniveark, the head of human resources at ANZ Royal Bank, said the bank was adopting a less-aggressive recruitment policy in the wake of the general economic slowdown, aiming for four or five new recruits a month rather than the 150 to 200 annual hires it had previously been targeting.
"We are still recruiting staff to fill in our vacancies and to support our growth agenda, but not as many as we did in the past," she said.
There is already a surplus of graduates in Cambodia, according to ILO figures. The country's labour force grew 53 percent between 2000 and 2006 as around 275,000 young job seekers entered the market every year. From 1999 to 2004, just 67,000 new jobs were created each year, leading to high unemployment, particularly among youth.
Gambade said 10,000 young professionals, students and job seekers were expected to attend a career forum on the weekend organised by the FCCC to put graduates in touch with potential employers. At last year's event, between 200 and 300 attendees found jobs and many more were recruited later after leaving CVs with the 50 companies scouting at the forum.
Just 35 employers have booked booths at this year's forum, Gambade said, reflecting the tightening job market, but there were still jobs on offer for the right candidates.
On the plus side, at least for employers, recruiting has become cheaper, with Cambodian job seekers lowering their salary expectations. "They are getting scared and they just want to take a job," Gambade said.