Smart Axiata’s CEO, Thomas Hundt, has a bigger ambition besides promoting his company’s mobile phone network and expanding its subscriber base in Cambodia.
He is working closely with the government to build “future digital leaders” – a grand plan to equip and empower Cambodians with digital knowledge.
This is in support of the Kingdom’s efforts to embrace a digital economy by 2023.
The mobile telecommunications operator introduced the SmartEdu University Student Development Program (USDP) in October, primarily to nurture young Cambodians with the right skills and competencies to become capable corporate leaders in the digital era.
“USDP is nurturing leaders for Cambodia’s flourishing ICT [Information Communications Technology] sector. The future is very bright and we are on the right track to bring Cambodia into the tech space,” Hundt said at the awards presentation ceremony for the top performers at the inaugural SmartEdu USDP program on December 1.
In October, Smart inked an agreement with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, to develop local talents for the growing digital economy.
The company also committed $1.5 million to fund two vital programmes – the SmartEdu Scholarship Program and the SmartEdu University Student Development Program.
The Smart student leadership development initiative comes at a critical time, as Cambodia marches into the digital world, much faster than some of its Asean peers, but faces scarcity in human capital to support the rapidly growing digital economy.
With the advent of e-commerce, digital payment and e-government, there is a pressing demand for skilled workforce and more so when the Kingdom enters the Industry 4.0 phase, which takes digital technology to a new horizon backed by interconnectivity via Internet of Things (IoT).
According to the The Cambodian IT industry: Skills for a Digital Economy report released in January last year, 75 per cent of businesses interviewed said they were unable to hire talented IT workers.
“The most difficult roles to fill were IT project managers and team leaders where there is a small pool of talent to choose from,” said the report.
The ICT industry has enjoyed significant growth and it is estimated to be worth about $800 million, and some 30,000 IT professionals drive the sector.
The USDP is modelled to unearth best talents from universities and groom them to be future corporate leaders.
After undergoing an intensive 13 days SmartEdu USDP bootcamp in Siem Reap, three semi-finalist teams of the CEO Challenge pitched their innovative solutions at the Grand Finale and Awards Ceremony at Sofitel Hotel in Phnom Penh.
The CEO Challenge winning team was awarded $1,800, while the Best Overall Team throughout the Bootcamp received $1,200. In addition, top eight individual performers were presented with a fully-sponsored two-month work exposure at Axiata Group in Malaysia.
At the event, Hunt shared some nuggets of wisdom with the young students: “The biggest risk is not taking risk. Learning has no boundaries, so keep learning throughout life’s journey and be the change. . .”
While addressing the event, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications secretary of state Dr Kan Channmeta, said Cambodia should start building the right talent pool and ecosystem to support the digital economy.
“We need more ICT talents. We are now talking about Industrial 4.0, AI [Artificial Intelligence], Big Data, Data Science, IoT and Machine Learning.
“Some people are worried about losing their jobs to disruptive technologies and innovations. Thus, we must mobilise more funds to reach out to students and equip ICT competent students for the new workplace,” said Chann-meta.
“Honestly, the USDP programme has helped me in learning about teamwork and leadership. The focus was on CEO leadership, how to do business and understand our consumers and their needs and to equip them with the right products and services.
“USDP changed my working style, it thought me how to be humble, understand weaknesses and strength of my teammates,” said 19-year old Luy Lysieng, a third-year student majoring in Food Chemistry Engineering at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, who was one of the participants.