A study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recommended that Cambodia develop industry transformation maps in key sectors to enable transitions under the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). This should be accompanied by adequate investment in skills development for new and repositioned jobs.

A report titled Reaping the Benefits of Industry 4.0 through Skills Development in Cambodia was released on January 20 and examined the local garment and tourism industries – as the top two industries in terms of national employment, they are important drivers for growth and international competitiveness.

New technologies associated with the 4IR will eliminate some jobs in these industries, but the losses could be offset by higher demand created by rising productivity, potentially generating net gains of jobs amounting to 39 per cent in the garment industry and two per cent in tourism, the report claimed.

The study warns that there is no guarantee that displaced workers will necessarily move into newly created jobs without adequate and timely investments in skills development, despite overall positive expectations for net employment.

Job displacement is also more likely to impact women, who make up nearly 81 per cent of Cambodia’s garment manufacturing workers, it said.

“While 4IR could be transformative for jobs and skills in Cambodia, we must address the potentially disproportionate impact on women,” said ADB Country Director for Cambodia Sunniya Durrani-Jamal.

“We must improve knowledge of 4IR technologies and their benefits, support businesses including small and medium enterprises to adopt advanced technologies and offer support for retraining and re-skilling programmes through means including tax incentives to ensure that no one is left behind,” she said.

Cambodia should introduce new approaches to strengthen inclusion and social protection for entry-level workers, those at risk of job displacement and those who need advanced skills training. There is a need to develop technical and vocational education and training programs with dedicated 4IR credentials in key industries, the report said.

The study also found that employers surveyed in the two industries had limited understandings of 4IR technologies. When asked whether they had a good understanding of 4IR technologies and the relevance to their companies, only 28 and 35 per cent of garment manufacturing and tourism employers, respectively, agreed or strongly agreed.

ADB Principal Education Specialist Shanti Jagannathan said: “As 4IR technologies spread rapidly, extensive investments in digital skills will improve the chances of the young and old to access higher-quality jobs and lower the risk of job losses.

“Now is the time to rethink delivery of skills using virtual platforms and mobile technologies – and develop agile training institutions with courses and credentials that match market needs.”

Um Sotha, spokesman at the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation said on January 20 that Cambodia is implementing its Industrial Development Policy for 2015-2025 in conjunction with additional supporting mechanisms to adapt to the 4IR. But the country faces challenges due to having limited human resources in STEM fields.

“Addressing this problem, the ministry is mobilising experts in science, technology and innovation and compiling a roster,” he said.

He added that although his ministry has been tasked with facilitating 4IR transitions, it will be a joint effort because the changes will affect all sectors of the economy.