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Engineering professor says construction workers need more hands-on experience

Labourers at work on a construction project in Phnom Penh. Sat Dara says graduating engineers need more hands-on experience.
Labourers at work on a construction project in Phnom Penh. Sat Dara says graduating engineers need more hands-on experience. Photo supplied

Engineering professor says construction workers need more hands-on experience

Post Property leaves no stone unturned in its search for the best information on Cambodia’s property and construction sector. Moeun Nhean sat down with veteran engineering professor Sat Dara to listen to his take on the current state of training and education of the kingdom’s construction workers.

There’s no doubt that the construction sector in Cambodia has been marching rapidly forward. However, the pace of development has sparked concerns that the industry’s evolution in the kingdom is problematic on two fronts. First, that price rises cannot be sustained in the medium term, and second, that vocational training for construction workers is not of sufficient quality.

Prof. Dara, many thanks for sharing with us your insights today. Can you introduce yourself to our readers please?
My name is Sat Dara, an engineering professor and a senior officer of the Board of Engineers Cambodia (BEC). I have studied overseas, where I majored in numerous subjects but particularly engineering. I have also worked overseas as well and I am currently involved in several construction projects in Cambodia.

Tell us about the training of those in the construction sector in Cambodia. What institutes or training centers provide vocational training to workers who major in construction and engineering?
Currently, Cambodia has many training centers, institutes and universities that provide vocational training related to construction. Workers who major in construction at a vocational training institute must complete one full year of study. College students who have finished high school have to go through two years of studies plus an extra year for the necessary extra core subjects, with which they may not be familiar. University students in engineering have to study for five years.

A degree in construction skills is available at Phnom Penh Polytechnic Institute, as well as at the National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia at Kob Srov Dam. The Don Bosco and Dam Dek schools also offer qualifications in engineering and construction. The Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC) as well as private universities such as Norton and Build Bright, teach these subjects too.

Of these institutions, the ITC has the biggest capacity. It can welcome up to 1,000 students a year because it can provide bachelors’ and higher degrees too. Other schools accept only a few hundred students.

What is the job market like for engineering graduates? Is there work out there for them?
Every year, thousands of students graduate who have majored in engineering and construction. 95 percent of them have already got a job, while some others decide to run their own companies. From my own observation, about 25 to 30 percent of students are so outstanding they get a job during their second year at college or university. In short, there is a very big demand in the employment market for skilled construction workers as well as a big demand for other experts every year.

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Engineering professor Sat Dara. Photo supplied

Has the Cambodian construction engineers’ vocational qualification responded well to the growing development of this sector?
Construction companies are looking only for experienced staff. They put skilled workers right at the top of their priority list. Therefore, our students have to earn their experience through working in companies or on construction projects before they officially apply to a company. It’s right that companies are doing this; but our local training centres and universities still lack workshops for hands-on skills practice and experimentation. We need students to get more of this practical experience before they go into the sector.

As a professor, I would like to request the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport or other education centers or universities to establish workshops where students can actually practice on their own. This is the same as what training institutions in developed countries are doing. When I studied overseas, the students had the chance to apply their lessons with the teachers. Therefore, we were already practiced in our skills while we were still at school.

During the last few years, I’ve seen some companies offering internship opportunities to our students to gain experience.

The important insight that I want to share with all the students is that you must try very hard and be certain on both theory and practice. That’s because after you graduate, you should have sufficient knowledge to work straight away. Don’t rely solely on getting experience; if you do, we will always be behind other ASEAN countries, because once they get their certificates, they have already obtained the practical capability to work.

How many locally trained civil engineers are there in Cambodia?
I don’t have an accurate figure of how many of them are in Cambodia, but our team at BEC is compiling information on these human resources and other relevant documents. There’s a total of about 3,000 engineers who are members of the Board of Engineers Cambodia, and they are very active in the current construction industry.

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