Phnom Penh university advises students to more closely match degrees with employment opportunities as concern grows over impact of global downturn
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Students arrive at Norton University in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
University students need to concentrate on strengthening their vocational skills if they hope to keep up with the new job market, says the rector of Norton University, Chan Sokheang.
He said the some 1,500 students who graduate from Norton each year will face more demanding employers than past classes did and urged students to match their studies to industries that are growing.
The most plum positions would lie in the oil and gas sector as well as the agricultural industry, he said.
Norton University conducts annual surveys to forecast the needs of the job market.
For Chan Sokheang, these provide an opportunity to track of how his students are matching employment trends.
"For example, the markets will offer 200 jobs for electricity technicians, but Norton was able to supply 40," he said.
"Currently, students largely rely on unfounded advice from family and friends when choosing what to study.
"I am now really focusing my time on advising our students on the realities job market," he said. "The readiness of our students to keep up with the job market is one of our top priorities."
Chan Sokheang urged the government to work with universities to develop a strategy for promoting human resource development.
"If the government was able to help us forecast the future demands of the job market, then it would help students study the right things," he said.
"Too many are majoring in management, construction and commerce, whereas we need more students developing skills in public health, rural development, and oil and gas engineering."
According to the school's own records, 91 percent of Norton graduates were employed within their first year out of university, of which 10 percent ran their own businesses.
Chan Sokheang said this was the highest employment rate any tertiary-level institution in the country and is a major drawcard for the university.
According to the survey, students were employed as follows: six percent as managers, 22 percent as middle managers, 10 percent as first-line managers, and 45 percent in staff positions.
While acknowledging that some of Norton's jobless graduates were merely temporary victims of fluctuations in the job market, the university's pollsters concluded that lack of previous work experience and poor vocational skills were the culprit in most cases.
The survey showed that only 59 percent of students had jobs that matched their field of study.
Monthly salary levels of graduates ranged from less than $100 to more than $600. Sixteen percent were receiving salaries in the $100-$150 range, while another 16 percent were in the $201-$250 bracket.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, predicted Cambodia's agricultural sector would evolve in the coming years from largely subsistence practices to large-scale production for export - and would require a new generation of local experts to preside over it.
He also predicted the scale of industries in Cambodia would grow, saying, the growth of heavy industry in Cambodia was inevitable in the near future.
Citing unemployment of university graduates at 90 percent - an alarmingly high figure that is supported by few others - he said: "The market is very narrow. We are really concerned about what will happen if the global financial crisis is not solved."
Rong Chhun welcomed recent government legislation that helps Cambodians working abroad by putting $100 towards their foreign work permits.
"I thank Samdech Hun Sen for covering the passport fee for people going abroad to work, but the problem is that lower officials won't follow through on his order. They will still find ways to extort money from these workers," he said.