Around 73 percent of employers said that university graduates do not possess the right kind of skills for work and a similar view was held by 62 percent of employers about vocational training graduates. These figures are the striking results of a survey conducted among employers in 2011 by a private consulting firm in Cambodia, cited in the World Bank report “Matching Aspiration: Skills for Implementing Cambodia’s Growth Strategy”. What they reflect are the negative effects of a chronic lack of coordination in the education sector with which Cambodia has been plagued since the last decade at the very least.
Most Cambodian students appear neither to understand the skills demanded by employers, nor have enough information about their studies and future employment opportunities. Advice on what programs of higher education students should pursue after graduating from high school is mainly garnered from close relatives who also have limited knowledge about future demands on the labor market. The joint report by the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that about 67 percent of the decisions made by high school graduates are influenced by their parents.
This situation has triggered a mismatch between supply and demand on the Cambodian labor market in recent times. The same World Bank report reveals that the large numbers of university graduates in the academic year 2009-2010 majoring in accounting, finance, and management represent around 50 percent of total number of graduates entering the Cambodian labor market that same year. However, those with majors in civil engineering, science and technology, or agriculture and rural development account for a mere 1.5 percent, 0.1 percent, and 2.3 percent, respectively.
Agriculture and off-farm rural activities defined as “the participation of individuals in remunerative work away from a ‘home plot’ of land” are reported to be Cambodia’s main industries in need of development. Furthermore, around 80 percent of economic activities in Cambodia take place in the informal sector. These activities do not really require skills in the field of social sciences —including accounting, finance, and management— as provided by the universities, but rather call for skills provided by vocational training institutions.
Moreover, the quality of graduates with majors in social sciences is perceived to be very inadequate due to the absence of coordination between higher education institutions (universities and vocational training schools)and employers who are private companies in the real world. Some lecturers are said to possess little work experience in the real world and thus offer mostly theoretical knowledge to their students. Dialogue between higher education institutions and private companies as seen so far limited and thus contributing to the shortfall of the flow of information between the demand and supply side on the labor market. And very few higher education institutions provide proper career counseling. Some lecturers are also seen to be taking up full or part time jobs elsewhere thus robbing themselves of valuable time that could be spent mentoring and nurturing their students.
The type of skills required by Cambodian students needs to be more concretely defined in the near future. This can be done by encouraging more active dialogue between higher education institutions and private companies, and by coordination through relevant government institutions. Such active dialogue would help link lecturers to real life situations where they could gain practical knowledge to offer their students. At the same time, it would also give students better access to information about future demands on the labor market via career counseling services which should be provided by higher education institutions.
The Cambodian government has already emphasized skills as part of “Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency. This comes together with some good vocational training initiatives by both state agencies and non- governmental organizations and private associations like the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) which are organizing a series of workshops that provide a forum for detailed and focused discussions on how relevant and practical skills can be taught at universities and vocational training institutes. These workshops mostly involve key stakeholders including leading employers, higher education providers, and representatives from unions and government ministries. Some universities have also installed a ‘University Employment Counseling Unit’ to assist students in finding jobs.
Yet no matter how well meaning such initiatives are, they can only work if all parties are genuinely committed to the process and if the key players – and the government in particular – expands financing for early childhood development, strengthens institutional development, and promotes incentives aimed towards good results among skills providers, including higher educational institutions.