China Huanengs endeavours to hire local human resources for its latest hydropower project in Cambodia

Marie Lamy

The Lower Se San 2 Dam is a hydroelectric dam developed on the Se San River in Stung Treng province, northeastern Cambodia.

The Lower Se San 2 Dam is a hydroelectric dam developed on the Se San River in Stung Treng province, northeastern Cambodia. The Se San River is a major tributary of the Mekong River.

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The dam site is located 25 kilometres east of the provincial capital, also named Stung Treng. The first turbine began producing electricity in November 2017. The dam was officially opened on Dec 18, 2018, and is now fully operational, with a peak power production capacity of 400 megawatts (MW) with an average output of 1,998 gigawatt-hours per year. It has five turbines of 80 MW each and was completed at a cost of approximately $800 million.

The operator of the project is Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co Ltd, while the majority stake holder is China Huaneng Group.

Chinese workers at Lower Se San 2 Dam on the Se San River in Stung Treng province Photo provided

While the commissionning of what is touted as Cambodia’s largest hydro power dam has successfully helped significantly in alleviating the country’s thirst for electricity to power industries and homes, the company has not been successful in another critical aspect of its operations – recruiting and training local engineers to gradually takeover from foreign engineers.

The deputy manager of Lower Sesan 2,. Li Meng Sen said that there are currently almost 250 employees working in the power plant, consisting of 140 Chinese nationals and approximately 100 Cambodians.

“However, the biggest disparity is in the engineering and highly skilled bracket as we only have managed to recruit and train and equip 10 Cambodian engineers while we need three to four times that number.

“These 10 engineers are directly located at the power plant while the other Cambodians undertake various other tasks at the power plants base camp facilitiy. This is a troubling problem that we are facing and trying very hard to overcome,” he says.

One of the company’s strategy, says Li, is a concerted effort to localise skilled workers and other technical staff who are essentially for the successful operations of the power plant and related ancillary facilities.

He adds that this strategy and the rewards which it offers is a highly attractive one but despite this, the journey to localise its human resource has been a difficult one with a low degree of success.

“Many are shying away from relocating here because of the distance, consternation of the challenges faced in enhancing or developing their skills and also to live a disciplined and hard working life,” Li explains, adding that these are based on feedbacks and may not be completely accurate.

“What we want to do is to encourage young graduates in the engineering and technical and even the management field to take up internships in our facility and, hopefully, will become our family and slowly replace expatriates to a large degree. To qualify for our localisation programme, basic requirements include a degree in electrical engineering and a second language English or Chinese.” he says.

Towards this end, Li says that the company is an equal-opportunity employer and does not discriminate between Cambodians and Chinese nationals because both are needed to maintain operations and continue producing electricity for tens of years.

The benefits and facilities for all employees are equal and there is no disparity. Full board and accommodation is provided and various recreational facilities such as a swimming pool, fully equipped sports centres and gymnasium, medical facilities and mini marts are also provided to help meet the needs of all members of the company.

Li says that most of the Cambodian workers are engaged in the production, operation, management and comprehensive services of the power plant, but these numbers are still insufficient to maintain full operational compliance.

“Thus far, the level of cooperation between the Chinese-Cambodian workers is going well and we are very satisfied with the dedication, commitment and enthusiasm shown by the Cambodian staff.

“We would like to recruit five more Cambodians to work at the hydro station site by next year and this also entails a five years mandatory training period to hone and sharpen skills to be completed.”

He added while contributing towards local socio-economic development, the company has also effectively trained several electric power technical personnel as well, thus contributing towards development of skills and human resources for the country.

Mr. Li says that the company gives high priority to safety and towards this end, has registered a cumulative safe operational hours of more than 675 days today, thus enhancing the security for all employees.

This initiative is slowly but surely being implemented by the company to ensure the handover of the Hydropower after 40 years to the Cambodian government, which is a result of the excellent cooperation between the Cambodian-Chinese government under the “One belt One Road” Initiative.

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