AFTER decades of punishing civil war, Cambodia has developed slowly but steadily on a wave of political stability and economic growth. The loss of human and infrastructure resources during wartime, however, have left the Kingdom with a number of issues that still need to be resolved, not least of which are the high rates of unemployment and poverty.
With these issues in mind, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s National Training Board has adopted a project with the impressive title of Strengthening Technical and Vocational Education Training (STVET).
This project aims to ensure the productivity of the workforce so it can meet market demand and improve Cambodians’ quality of life.
The difficulty lies in young people’s perception of technical jobs. Most view vocational jobs as low-paid and not very prestigious. Few high-school students will choose hands-on jobs, such as becoming a mechanic or an engineer, over continuing their education.
Despite a significant increase in the number of public and private universities in Cambodia, very few offer technical-skills majors, let alone formal vocational training programs in those areas.
Many technical skills are largely ignored, taught by only a limited number of local and international organisations to the rural poor.
Suy Sokha, the recruitment manager at HR Inc., a leading human-resources and business-solutions company operating in Cambodia, has found a lack of technical expertise in all industries in his attempts to find staff for his clients.
Suy Sokha says people are needed in all kinds of positions, from supporting roles to technical experts and managers, in the agricultural, chemical, garment, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and construction industries.
But even with this high demand, few universities make the effort to attract students to these majors, or even to offer them.
Moreover, there is no proper examination system for filtering students who receive certain types of higher education.
This may be why many holders of bachelor’s degrees find it difficult to land well-paying jobs, as they are competing with many classmates who studied similar things.
Most Cambodian universities require no placement exams or entrance tests; they simply accept any students who show up to register.
This is not the case in other countries, where many leading universities require a certain score in standardised admittance tests. And Cambodian universities offer students any major they want, without any concern for market demand.
If you happen to drive past a high school during the national High School Examination, you will notice crowds of people waiting to hand students piles of university brochures and booklets.
Every student receives a stack of paper about possible majors, almost all of which are concerned with service jobs. If students were classified on their interests and academic performance in high school, they might consider careers in technical and vocational fields.
In my opinion, students need to be made aware of vocational training education before they register at a university.
Institutions of higher education are not established for profit. They are a social mainstay charged with creating the next generation of productive human resources.
So, along with trying to offer more technical training courses in universities, students should have a consultant who helps them decide on the major that will provide them with the best job prospects.
Furthermore, students should be made more aware of scholarships that offer a chance to study technical skills abroad, such as the Endeavour Vocational Education and Training Award provided by the Australian government.
There are also some awards that offer study in the US.
The important point is that students serious about their education and their career should change their stereotyped view of vocational training education.