As Cambodia moves up the value chain, universities are accelerating the production of engineers and technicians to meet the needs
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More sophisticated production processes and high-skilled labour force are required to sustain the economy’s rapid growth and to compete in global markets. In the Rectangular Strategy Phase III (2014 to 2018), Cambodia emphasised that growth, employment, equity and efficiency are key objectives in Cambodia’s economic and social development planning.
The Industrial Development Policy (2015-2025) also highlighted a new growth strategy aimed at transforming and modernising the industrial structure from labour intensive to a skill-based one. It looks at linking Cambodian industry and economy with the global value chain and integrate them into regional production networks.
The question here is whether the education system is in sync with the new industry. The truth is, it is not.
The link between education and vocational training, and industrial policies are weak, according to National Employment Agency (NEA)’s Skills Shortages and Gaps in the Cambodian Labour report in May 2018.
The report shows that between 2016 and 2017, the total employment level of 10 sectors rose by 1.5 percent or an additional 14,123 jobs. The growth is expected to increase year-on-year at 2.2 percent between 2017 and 2019 or 21,546 additional jobs.
The sector that was estimated to have the fastest annual growth rate for that period is the food and beverage sector (7.5 percent), followed by finance and insurance (5.7 percent), and ICT (5.7 percent). The largest contribution to employment growth is from the garment, footwear and apparel sector (52.6 percent).
Minebea Mitsumi Inc (Cambodia), is a comprehensive precision components manufacturer that integrates a wide range of cutting-edge technologies. It set up a local subsidiary in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone in 2010.
Its corporate communications and investor relations office general manager Takayuki Ishikawa told Capital Cambodia that it is very difficult to recruit mid-career skilled labour due to lack of experienced skilled labour in the electronics industry.
The company has to recruit new graduates from universities and colleges, and provide training to become qualified skilled labour. It has employed some 9,000 employees in Cambodia.
“We increase skilled labour and unskilled labour based on new orders from customer that require high value-added products,” he says.
Without high skilled labour, the company is not able to produce high value-added products in Cambodia. “We are planning to bring produce more of such products in Cambodia, so we must have higher skilled labour,” says Ishikawa.
New industry’s growth and increase of skilled labour are like two wheels on a cart. He says now is the time for the government to support new industrial needs and make it strong so that industries can expand with the help of skilled labour.
Once the demand for skilled labour increases, many high-quality students will start thinking of working in the industry. This would interest universities and colleges to create proper curriculum to prepare graduates for the market.
“Our students’ basic knowledge of electrical engineering, biotechnology, and telecom engineering is still low. It is between 30 to 40 percent. It is a long way to go but have started,” says Mey Kalyan, board chairman of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
He adds that sometimes there are no new industries while foreign direct investment sees labour force being imported from the home country.
Kalyan says that Cambodia needs more electrical engineers, mechanic engineers, and for those who have the basic skill on this subject. However, Cambodia so far has failed to produce any.
“If we are talking about Industry 4.0, we need basic technical. We noticed that universities are slowly providing information technology, digital and technology course. However, we were very concerned that engineering courses were absent,” he adds.
But things are changing. RUPP opened up electrical engineering, biotechnology, and telecom engineering courses to feed market demand. Currently, there are some 20,000 undergraduates pursuing degrees in RUPP.
Every year, the university produces more than 3,000 graduates. Of that, only 500 students are graduated from science, information technology and electrical engineering, biotechnology, and telecommunications.
“We are working to link education to the real industry. We are working with PPSEZ to carry out exchange internships or educational programs. Our education is for development, and not just for education. So, we strengthen the research courses and integrate it with science and technology,” he adds.
Basic skills in electrical and mechanical engineering have to be ready to cater to value-added industries.
“We have to incorporate critical thinking, flexibility, language and history. Their way of thinking has to improve so that they can solve problems,” he adds.
Education, Youth and Sports Minister Hang Chuon Naron says skilled labour would attract investors as Cambodia’s industrial sector is transforming.
“Our education system has to respond to the need of the new industry. We must improve the system starting from the primary school level,” says Naron.
Universities in the provinces should produce quality labour to serve the surrounding industries. For instance, he cites that University of Svay Rieng supplies graduates to the Special Economic Zones in Svay Rieng while Battambang University works with economic zone in Battambang. “We also established a technical institute in Kampong Thom and Kampong Speu to meet the demand of local labour. This also reduces migration of graduates to cities. We have to expand step by step. Hence, the need to invest more in the educational sector,” he adds.