The practical importance of professional internships is being increasingly recognised by more Cambodian undergraduates – many of whom lack the relevant real-life work experience
As the number of students graduating from university every year continues increasing rapidly, opportunities for fresh graduates seeking employment become slim and exceedingly competitive, often requiring candidates with experience of a high calibre.
“They will ask about our experience once we apply for a job,” said audiovisual technician Lach Vannak, 24, who is now working at the Open Institute.
Vannak recalls his experience of doing two internships during his time as a student and how that has helped him to work at a professional level now.
“It does allow me to apply from what I learn at school,” said Vannak, explaining the advantages of internships that have provided him with many practical skills while he was studying. “Sometimes, we can learn in an internship what we miss in school,” he said.
Saray Samadee, 22, a media studies student, is doing her internship as a communication assistant at ActionAid, a non-profit organisation working to end poverty. She says, “Just knowing what you have learnt is not enough, you have to practice and apply it.”
As a senior year student, Saray Samadee is fully occupied with the demands of her schoolwork and classes. However, she still accepts internships that she is offered, as she is aware it will strengthen her resume while increasing her options and chances when applying for a job in the future.
“My internship will last for five months, and I am so satisfied with what I have been doing and learning at the organisation. “I am standing on the right way and getting ready for the job,” Saray Samadee said.
Even though her position’s tasks are relevant to her major at school, Saray Samadee admitted that throughout the first month of her work she has encountered many obstacles – many of which are tasks or problems that she never came across in her lessons.
“At times, real work is different from what we learn at school,” she said. But those difficulties are no longer her concerns.
Some educational institutions seem to ignore internship opportunities for their students, but Tieng Sopheak Vichea, head of the Department of Media and Communication at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, says it is part of the school’s strategy in making the university a highly prestigious and qualified education provider.
“Internships are compulsory for the students during their academic year.”
“Students in the department are strongly encouraged and technically supported to find internships and any training courses,” he said.
Moreover, he aims to make students in his department equipped and fully functional for the future workforce.
The department ensures students receive equal grounding in theoretical and practical works. Students are required to do internships at least twice during the course of their studies.
Internships are uncommon to some Cambodian students – many puzzled by what it involves or requires of them.
Some admitted that they do not know what internships are and the methods or measures of obtaining one.
“I have sent applications responding to many job announcements upon graduating in the middle of this year, but received no reply,” said undergraduate Sros Savoeun, 26, who has never done an internship.
Job opportunities are inaccessible and tough to find, partly because most jobs require suitably trained applicants with experience.
According to the Department of Higher Education, there are more than 130,000 students, studying at Cambodian universities this year alone.
But only a few of them have done any formal training or internships to get professional work experience before their graduation.
This leaves behind many inexperienced students who have to surmount huge barriers when they are looking for jobs in the future – inadequate experience becomes a hindrance usually resulting in them not being able to secure a job in a field they had studied or trained for.
Tieng Sopheak Vichea is also concerned about the state of internship providers, “Most of these internships are provided by non-governmental organisations rather than government institutions, which are not responding to the number of students.
A survey by the Youth Star, an international youth organisation, reveals that only one out of every nine students can find a job after they graduate.
Therefore, seeking internships or jobs in relevant fields is seen to be problematic for fresh graduates without professional experience, amid the recession and a saturated job market.