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Build skills, not just profits

Build skills, not just profits


Brown HR Manager Thy Sokhai believes other Cambodian companies should provide staff the time to pursue their own goals. Photograph: Rosa Ellen/Phnom Penh Post

Phnom Penh’s fast-growing hospitality and tourism industry might be a Mecca for job-hungry young people, but some employers believe Cambodian businesses must use their hiring power for good, not just profit.

For 25-year-old Khiev Puthy, who works at the Brown Coffee and Bakery, a good employer allows staff time to complete their studies outside of work and gives them incentive to seek promotion.

Khiev Puthy, who plans to resume his hospitality studies soon, began work at the Cambodian-owned Brown’s coffee chain a year ago, but not before a bad work experience of his own.

“I have other opportunities like in the hotel, but at the hotel they always changed the shifts, like they always have split shifts. At Brown’s morning is morning and afternoon is afternoon,” he said.

“When we come here to work we know our (boss) lets us continue to study; he wants young Cambodians to have knowledge.”

The company’s employee policy is a central part of its operations, Brown’s HR manager Thy Sokhai said.

Thy Sokhai grew up in an orphanage and after finishing high school there began the hunt for a good hospitality job in Phnom Penh, but nearly all required a year’s experience.

Within two years of being employed by Brown he has moved up the ladder and is now in charge of the HR department that first employed him.

He said the majority of staff were from the provinces and wanted to study at the same time as making a living. “We focus on helping those from the provinces who come to Phnom Penh.

“After high school they have no skills that allow them to work – unless they know how to speak English – [so] if they are willing to work, we train them.”

Frangipani Villa Hotels co-owner Rith Din is another employer with a firm belief in staff education.

Din and his two partners opened the first Frangipani Villa hotel as a way of creating jobs for young people in the city. As business took off, Din left his job as country manager for UN Habitat and concentrated on growing the enterprise, which will soon have 500 staff across eight hotel branches.

“I have four kinds of staff,” Din said. “First, those who have skills and experience. The others have brains but not experience. Others have never had experience in the hotel sector but they speak English. The others, are those from the village.”

Staff are initially given jobs according to their skill-level and encouraged to work their way up. Shifts don’t rotate and staff aren’t made to move to other hotel branches, allowing them time to study.

Frangipani Villa has donors but is still a business and not “completely a social enterprise”, Din said.

“All departments have strong training. We want them to look for work and not stay in the one position for life. We look at salary every year and evaluate it. Every staff (member) has to get a 10 per cent increase.”

But even hospitality training courses are a long way out of reach of the most marginalised job seekers, Friends International vocational training technical advisor Ghislan Morard said.

“The reason is that most existing training programs are not adapted to our target group. They require a high education level that the youth [don’t have] ... you need to have reached grade nine or grade 12.

“In many cases our students have left in grade three or five.”

Friends run their own hospitality training through their restaurant and cafe, with many former students going on to work for larger businesses.

“I think it’s a good industry and at the moment there are a lot of people trying to get in without skills, but if you really try to build your skills ... you can have a good job and the salary can increase quite fast,” Morard said.

Thy Sokhai agrees, but thinks more companies should allow their young employees opportunities to their build skills.

“I hope other companies or industries give a chance to students. You can’t get experience unless someone gives you a chance and (lets you) learn how to do the work step-by-step.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rosa Ellen at [email protected]