Rami Sharaf, CEO of RMA Cambodia, says the private sector should take the time and spend the money to give Cambodian staff as much training as possible between now and 2015 when open ASEAN borders will change the job market.
One of the big employers in Cambodia, RMA represents Ford cars and John Deere tractors, as well as Pizza Company, BBQ Chicken, Dairy Queen, Swenson’s Ice Cream, and the newly opened Costa Coffee.
RMA Cambodia employs more than 1,000 people and regularly sends Cambodians overseas for training. Sharaf says Cambodia shouldn’t wait for the right skills in the workforce to materialise, but rather should train the people to do the skills.
“The private sector in Cambodia should not sit on the fence waiting for the right tailored competencies to show up. We should be proactive and we should go the extra mile and we should play our part in building the Cambodian work force,” he said.
Sharaf, in an interview this week, said training programs for Cambodians should happen at the very initial time of planning and design for factories and other workplaces.
“If today I will have a factory of automotive spare parts, I should not wait expecting that we will have some local Cambodians to be experts in this kind of skilled labour. The very initial time of planning and design should be the right time to train the raw material of the work force. Young Cambodians are very quick learners,” he said.
RMA’s company EFG that operates all the express food franchise including Pizza Company, Costa Coffee, Swenson’s, Dairy Queen and BBQ chicken, is staffed entirely by Cambodians, including the general manager.
“We invest in training these guys. We invest in exposing them and giving them the chance to enter these leading franchises. We give them the stage on which to perform and a chance to go up the ladder,” he said.
EFG regularly sends express food employees to Thailand, where there are lots of Dairy Queen and Pizza Company outlets. The Costa Coffee team, which opened its new outlet on the corner of streets 51 and 294 in BKK1 recently, were all trained in the United Kingdom. The BBQ Chicken team was trained at the “BBQ chicken university” in South Korea, Sharaf said.
“Our Ford people have mandatory trainings and they have volunteer ones that we send them to. Some go to Thailand as well as international conferences in the United States and Europe. Any amount you invest in building the right competent talented candidate is just seeding. Harvest will be later. This is part of our visionary plan which depends more and more on building local talent.”
Sharaf says grooming Cambodians to take on skilled jobs gives them a chance to show their capabilities.
“Delegate to them a certain level of authority, but give them some amount of mandate to make mistakes, but make sure they learn from the mistakes. You have to go the extra mile and you have to invest in order to harvest.”
For Sharaf the early training is vital to protect the Cambodian workforce with the coming of the Asian Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 2015.
“If tomorrow a Japanese or American company comes and says we will have a factory, my request is, as an integral part, it should also include number of employees you will recruit, number you will train. This is very vital now because in 2015 when ASEAN borders open, there will be a flow of this skilled labour into Cambodia.”
Sharaf says private sector companies can protect their labour by upgrading and grooming people through training to higher positions.
“By getting them to a new level and by raising the bar, I am protecting the sustainability and productivity of my own labour because in two years time, it will be an open market,” he said.
In order to protect the sustainability of the workforce, Sharaf says companies should demand that investors declare their plans for training and building a more skilled labour force.
“We need to upgrade these guys because once the market becomes one big open border, if we don’t do it, in 2015 you will have whoever from whatever other country. They can come to take the jobs of our local labor force.”
Visionary planning is required, according to Sharaf, to address the tens of thousands of young Cambodians entering the labour market each year, including a communication between the private sector and the universities and schools.
“We need to have an open channel between the academics and the real life employers and it should be a long term joint plan where the academics will channel the demand of the talents,” he said.