eant Sambath's parents raised three sons on their meager earnings from the construction
trade, but their children harbor different aspirations.
A student examines machinery at PSEís Job Forum in Phnom Penh on May 26 and 27.
"I want to be a computer scientist," says 17-year-old Sambath, who is finishing
his studies at Tuol Tumpong High School. He thinks his career choice will help his
brothers, aged 24 and 11, to pursue professions of their own in business and medicine.
"If I don't have enough money, I'll find a second job [as well] because I like
Sambath walks past recruiting booths at the country's first job fair and says computer
science comes naturally to him. He believes it is where the world is headed.
"Now is a modern time," he says, "and computers are the modern thing."
His comments show the pervasive reach of globalization, but surprisingly little has
been done to help the generation being raised on its promises.
To help change that, French NGO Pour un Sourire d'Enfant (PSE) organized the country's
first Job Forum on May 26 and May 27. The NGO, which provides vocational training
to children from the municipal garbage site in Phnom Penh, brought together corporations,
universities and more than 5,000 high school students on its campus.
More than 30 companies and vocational schools spent two days pitching courses and
job opportunities. The fair focused primarily on four sectors: beauty, communication
and sales, technology and tourism. Each student left the event with a job directory
outlining opportunities in almost 20 fields.
Employment specialists say the vast majority of students remain uninformed about
the jobs available to them with multinational companies and NGOs. They know even
less about the qualifications needed to get the positions, such as a formal education,
proficiency in English and, most importantly, a strong record of experience.
"The students need to know about these jobs," says PSE's program coordinator
Amélie Thibierge. "They will tell you they want to sew or that they just
want to be a mechanic because it is the only thing they have seen. The [Job Forum]
is the first time they can meet some companies."
Businesses attending the event, including car manufacturer Toyota and the travel
agency Exotissimo, say the opportunity to introduce students to new careers will
improve the quality of the labor force.
"This helps students understand more about their future, so that they know what
they really want to be," says Chhiu Phyrum, a human resources officer with Cambodia
Airport Management Services (CAMS), the airport authority. The company believes it
will benefit from a more informed applicant pool since many students are still unfamiliar
with the concept of recruitment.
The CAMS information booth received questions about more than just work opportunities.
Some students were more interested in knowing how much baggage was allowed on a flight,
or how to secure a visa out of the country. The forum's organizers says this represents
a first step towards changing that.
With 200,000 new workers entering the marketplace, and dubious university diplomas
on the rise, employers have become more discriminating about whom they hire. They
want committed, experienced and educated workers, but they are increasingly difficult
to find as applicants are snapped up by high-paying NGOs and corporations.
"There's definitely a shortage of qualified applicants," says Elisabeth
Gjemmestad of Interquess Enterprises, a job search agency.
She says only 20 percent of the 3,000 candidates listed on her company's database
meet the requirements for most jobs. The competition has grown fierce with a rising
number of experienced workers, and layoffs following the January 29 riots.
"Now people are really struggling to get jobs," says Gjemmestad. She estimates
at least ten new job seekers apply to her company every day, double the rate of last
year. "People who have been working for ten years now are looking for jobs.
The future is not clear for them."
If it is unclear for those with experience, it is even less certain for the wave
of young people poised to enter the market. Gjemmestad says around half of those
on her book are under the age of 25, a percentage that is likely to increase in coming
The Cambodian Development Research Institute (CDRI) estimates that the labor pool
grows by around 200,000 new workers annually. With half the current population under
20, an overwhelming percentage of these job seekers will be young, inexperienced
and vying for similar jobs.
Exacerbating that is the economy's weak capacity to generate employment opportunities.
CDRI says that to accommodate the new workers, the economy will need to expand by
more than 10 percent annually, a far cry from the 5 percent growth rate of recent
CDRI notes that although the country's formal economic sector like garment factories
and tourism can employ about one in ten new workers entering the labor market, at
least 185,000 still rely on agriculture and other informal sector jobs for a living.
NIS suggests that problem could worsen as the labor pool swells from an estimated
5.6 million people in 2001 to almost 10 million by 2011.
But employment agencies say qualified applicants can always find a job. Positions
in sales, marketing, and accounting are in nearly constant demand. It is just a matter
"Having three to four years of experience is the most important thing,"
says Gjemmestad. "I wish that every NGO and private company could take people
and train them seriously."
Some companies in the troubled tourism sector do just that. The Hotel InterContinental,
although still weathering the economic effects of SARS, will hire new staff once
travelers begin arriving again, says its human resources director. The hotel runs
its own training program to groom staff in the hospitality industry.
It offers trainees meals, a locker, transportation and a final certificate after
they pass the four-day course. He says many of those graduates are hired, although
he does not have precise figures. Other major hotels in the capital such as Le Royal,
Sunway, and The Cambodiana hold a 'Human Resources Club' each month to exchange information
But most companies are unwilling or unable to invest in staff training. Vissna Tep,
sales manager with car manufacturer Nissan, says his company is recruiting new employees,
but struggles to find qualified candidates with three years of business experience.
"The problem is with experience," he says. "Nissan doesn't want to
have to train them."
Gjemmestad says that approach misses a golden opportunity. She pushes job seekers
to find internships on their own, but says private sector businesses could offer
training to employees and profit from it.
"Companies aren't interested [in training staff]," she says. "They
should cooperate with universities. Students will work for free provided they have
good training. It's really a gold mine here."