With some 75 million young people the world over unable to find work, policymakers are increasingly focusing efforts to boost skills-based education programs to improve labour force output. In Cambodia, the constant flow of foreign investment in areas such as manufacturing continues to drive demand for skilled workers. But public perception and inequitable access are just a few of the barriers preventing labour supply from meeting demand. Enter Dr Sriram Bhagut Mathe, team leader and policy, management and institutional development specialist for the Asian Development Bank.
Sriram spoke with the Post’s Eddie Morton about ADB’s five technical and vocational training (TVET) projects in Cambodia and the importance of improving the practical training sector as the Kingdom struggles to sustain its economic growth.
Why is vocational and technical training now such a focus for Cambodia?
Actually, TVET has been out of the general radar for a number of decades, but has suddenly become very important to policy makers the world over because the skills of the workforce have now been recognised as an important catalytic element to accelerate economic and social development.
The importance of TVET is clearly evident from the report of UNESCO’s UNEVOC International Center, which stated that the majority (80 per cent) of jobs involve TVET skills.
The increasing focus on TVET in Cambodia, and in most countries, is definitely to better align supply with demand in existing and emerging industries. Several studies have shown high unemployment in many countries, including Cambodia, in spite of high demand for skilled workers.
What are the challenges and what industries in Cambodia are the most impacted by a lack of trained individuals?
The challenges facing the TVET sector are (i) the need to refurbish the image and status of TVET, (ii) inequitable access to TVET, (iii) the absence of an integrated and comprehensive system of formal, non-formal and informal with clear lateral and vertical pathways, (iv) the need for TVET to be viewed for lifelong learning, and (v) the necessity to encourage public-private partnership to ensure relevancy of the training.
These challenges are being addressed. A very encouraging start is the approval of Cambodian Qualification Framework (CQF) by the National Training Board. Once CQF gets implemented through a sub-decree or even a decree, the issue of access and relevancy of training can be even better addressed through national policies and better funding.
Is public perception of technical and vocational training the biggest hurdle?
Society perceives TVET as a “second-chance, second choice” option. Even worse is that large segments of society view TVET as catering to the “poor”, the disadvantaged and the drop-outs. This is certainly a major hurdle preventing large-scale enrollment in the TVET Certificate 1, 2 and 3 (equivalent to CQF levels 2, 3 and 4) programs, which are supposed to produce the skilled workers for both existing and emerging industries.
The desire of most young people to go for white-collar jobs, rather than blue-collar jobs, even if these jobs are more financially rewarding than white-collar jobs, has led to increasing vacancies in the industries, and at the same time increasing educated unemployed.
What is the Cambodian government along with development agencies doing to address vocational training issues?
The Government of Cambodia with the help of development partners, especially ADB, has been initiating the necessary reforms to address the equity, quality and relevancy issues related to TVET.
More specifically, the ongoing ADB financed $24.5 million STVET project is supporting the Government’s socio-economic development program through provision of an industry-endorsed TVET system which is aligned with the basic and middle level skills requirements of the formal and informal economies in the three industry sectors, namely: mechanics, construction and business services and ICT.
ADB has recently approved a $30 million loan for a nationwide program to raise the quality of TVET in Cambodia leading to more job opportunities for women and the poor. The program will overhaul the existing system to make it more responsive to labor market needs and help provide disadvantaged groups with more opportunities for formal training.
This interview has been edited for length.