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Low skills driving worker migration from Cambodia: report

A farmer stands among rice seedlings in his dried up Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season last year. A new report suggests that cross-border migration may increase as agricultural workers search for better opportunities abroad.
A farmer stands among rice seedlings in his dried up Kampong Speu paddy during rainy season last year. A new report suggests that cross-border migration may increase as agricultural workers search for better opportunities abroad. Victoria Mørck Madsen

Low skills driving worker migration from Cambodia: report

Young, rural workers in Cambodia – many reeling from the effects of flooding and drought – will need more access to skill-boosting vocational training if the country is to stem the tide of overseas migration, according to a new study.

Cross-border migration from Cambodia is expected to increase as many of the country’s agricultural workers grapple with debt, a lack of skills, and the economic hardships caused by extreme weather conditions, the USAID-sponsored report from Emerging Markets Consulting determined.

After surveying 919 potential migrants from Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Koh Kong, Phnom Penh, Prey Veng, Kampong Thom, Oddar Meanchey, and Svay Rieng provinces, the authors found that young, unmarried men in severe financial trouble were the most likely to consider migration.

Of those surveyed, agricultural work was the most common profession, while 75 percent were mired in debt and pointed to abnormal weather conditions such as drought or flooding that negatively impacted their livelihoods.

But the report also found that a shortage of jobs isn’t what’s driving workers across borders. If anything, the country’s labour market is experiencing a shortage of potential employees. The problem lies in a significant disconnect between the skills of those searching for work and those sought after by employers, the study found.

“Out of the 120 businesses sampled in the study, nearly 40 percent faced regular shortages of both high and low-skilled labor. However, over one quarter of potential migrants surveyed were planning to or considering migrating abroad for employment,” the report reads. “A mismatch of skills in labor market demand and supply became evident when the business survey results were compared to the characteristics of potential migrants.”

Employers are largely seeking to hire people who are literate in both Khmer and English, and have a certificate to prove they possess the relevant skills for their sector. In contrast, most potential migrants have not completed primary school, the study noted.

In order to address this issue, the study recommends that basic literacy and numeracy courses be offered to young dropout students, and that programs are launched to place these potential migrants in training courses and employment.

“It is not a small task, but national officials should plan for this in the long-term,” agreed Dy Thehoya of the Center for the Alliance of Labour and Human Rights. “They need to develop training in the districts so that students who don’t want a formal education can choose something else.”

Meanwhile, the study also suggested that support be provided for agricultural workers struggling from the effects of climate change.

“More emphasis should be placed on the impact of environmental changes and the extensive stress this places on agricultural-based households,” the study reads. “Drought is shown to be a strong predictor of intention to migrate, and interventions should focus on the resultant livelihood challenges.”

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