The issue of unemployed and underemployed youths, and youths lacking decent work, has become a challenge for countries across the globe.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that 45 million youths enter the workforce annually.
This means that from now until 2015, around 135 million new jobs will be needed to keep up with the growth. This is a massive challenge for the Asia-Pacific region, despite of its dynamism and accelerating growth.
The challenge is worsened by early school leaving, poor quality education and low wages in the formal sector, which drive youths to informal sector jobs that involve poor working conditions and low salaries.
Nowhere is the youth employment issue more acute than in Cambodia, which has the youngest population in Southeast Asia and 300,000 people entering the labour market every year: a speed the country’s job market cannot absorb.
One pressing issue for young Cambodian job seekers is the difficulty in sourcing labour market information.
The National Employment Agency, with the support of the ILO, has taken the lead in addressing this gap by creating and operating five regional job centres: in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampot and Svay Rieng.
These centres provide much needed services for young people, including job search and placement, counselling and guidance to job seekers, and the provision of labour market programmes such as training and re-training for employment.
They link jobseekers to potential employers as well as existing vocational training institutions where they can upgrade their skills.
Each job centre provides a job-net service, an internet-based registry that lists job openings, as well as library service, advisory and labour market information.
Since the establishment of the centres in 2009, more than 7,600 job-seekers have registered with them and at least 800 have found employment.
Soun Sourith, 23, is one such young person who has benefited from these services.
Last year Soun Sourith completed a Bachelors Degree in Accounting and Banking from Phnom Penh Human Resources University.
Of his graduating class, more than half have yet to find jobs. Soun Sourith, however, is one of the lucky ones, having secured a position as a credit agent.
The second youngest of five children, Soun Sourith’s parents and older siblings are low-level farmers. He is the first person in his family to secure a third-level degree and a middle-income job.
His parents paid his university tuition fees of US$320 a year by selling rice and vegetables.
Knowing the difficulties faced by young people in finding decent work, Soun Sourith began his job hunt before he graduated. He applied for two jobs, one with a marketing company and another with an NGO.
He managed to get the NGO position but found that the $50 monthly pay was too low. Soun Sourith decided that if was going to find a decent job with good pay he would need help.
He approached a friend who worked in the Kampot job centre.
Soun Sourith credits the centre with helping him secure his new job, which he has held for eight months.
“Before I went there my CV was very bad, but they gave me useful tips and helped me [rewrite it],” he said.
“Staff were very helpful. They provided me with information, interview skills and how to improve my CV. Then I got my current job after reading about it on the notice board.”
He continued: “I am paid $150 per month which I am much happier with than the pay I would have received in the other place. Next month, my pay will be raised to $180 per month.”
Soun Sourith also finds his current job more rewarding.
“My work is related to my study and I feel I am learning a lot about society and how people do business. I think my boss is happy with my work. I am happy at work and there are other young people here who are my friends,” he explains.
He is now assisting his family by contributing some of his salary so that his younger sister can pay for university and have the same opportunities he did.
Soun Sourith plans to stay working for his employer for the next few years but wants to move up in the organisation. His dream is to become an entrepreneur.
“I am interested in setting up my own business some day. If I can get enough capital, I would like to open up my own wholesalers’ shop,” he said.
For young women in Cambodia, employment circumstances are especially difficult as they often find themselves with fewer opportunities, face wage discrimination or find themselves in unpaid work.
Bun Veasny, 23, is one young woman who has managed to overcome these obstacles.
One of seven children from a poor farming family, she managed to become one of only 10 people awarded a coveted scholarship for her to study Tourism at Kampot Institute Polytechnic.
Bun Veasny hoped to secure a job to earn money in conjunction with her studies but didn’t know where to begin her search. “I had difficulties at first because of lack of information, but also because of a lack of jobs,” she said.
Eventually, she went to the job centre because it was located in the same compound as her Polytechnic. It was there that she managed to learn about, and successfully apply for, her current job as a cashier at the Kampot Diamond Hotel.
“When I went there, I read the job announcements on the board, and then I spoke to the job centre staff to get more information. The staff helped me write my CV and to apply for work. Many people were interviewed, but I got it.”
Her job as a cashier involves taking payments from the hotel guests and in the restaurant, answering phones and handling miscellaneous expenses.
Bun Veasny said that she thinks one of the reasons she managed to get her job was because of her soft skills ability, an area that many Cambodian employers say graduates are often lacking in.
“I have no experience but from working in the home and from my family I learned communication skills. I know how to talk to people, and I know how talk to guests,” she said.
Her salary is $90 a month, which said was suitable for her.
“It is quite okay for me as I live with my parents and I eat at home. I like my job, I like the friendly environment of my workplace and I have a good relationship with my employer. My work experience fits my study,” she said.
Both Veasny and Sourith are now at the beginning of their careers in decent jobs that fit their studies.
Thousands of other young Cambodian job-seekers still face a severe lack of labour-market information.
“Youths need more information about job vacancies and announcements” Sun Sourith said.
“Most important, they need to know how to prepare a good CV and they need services like the job centre to help them do this.”
Maeve Galvin is a communications and advocacy officer for the International Labour Organisation.