One of the biggest concerns among university students, especially those in rural provinces, is finding employment after they graduate. With the ASEAN Economic Community coming together by the end of this year, some say this is a golden opportunity for youths to look forward to, while some fear the free-flow of workers will make it harder for local youths to compete.
This week, Youth Today spoke with executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in Cambodia San Chey, who has many years of experience working with local youths and the education sector on youth employment and ASEAN integration.
YT: Can you give your overview of the employment in Cambodia? What is the unemployment situation like for youths?
San Chey: Nowadays, the word “employment” is not just for youth, but also for people in general. For example, the ministry said there’s a small percentage of unemployment. But, we should ask what kind of employment there is? The word ‘Employment’ should first include an ‘employment contract’, and secondly should include other benefits related to the work. Thirdly, the work should offers security for the staff. Security, for example, could refer to the ability of being able to allocate their salary to pay off an installment on the house, school fee, health care etc. So, the ones selling shells on the street are actually outside the working system. Even though, they are making a living, but we cannot say it is their employment.
So up until now, the definition of employment is not specifically determined yet. Some define it by including those working outside the working system, like tricycle drivers, ‘motodup’ as an employment too. Hence, I think there is much we have study on if we include such jobs as employment.
I believe the Cambodian youths are quite hopeless with finding employment opportunities. I think the return that the students are getting back after investing in their education is very little compared to what they invested to attend a university. For example, they may spend $300-$400/year for their university fee excluding other living expenses, but after completing their Bachelor Degree, some only receive $120-$250/month pay. So it is asymmetric to each other.
YT: Companies need staff with experience, but for those who are recent graduates, they need experience in order to get good jobs. What is your advice for them?
San Chey: For a university student, first, [they can start] paying close attention and being active outside the house. Apart from studying hard in school, they should go out and start interning in NGOs, Ministries, and other companies to learn about those jobs. Cambodian youths cannot stay passive like in 2003. This is 2015 now, so the attitude of expecting to have the jobs available for them when they graduate does not apply anymore. If we continue to practice this lifestyle, it is a danger for their employment. Hence, apart from studying at schools, and completing school assignments, youths should get out of their house to learn from working at institutions that provide internships.
Some youths I’ve met with want to work in a management field, or work as an accountant simply because they heard from their friends that working in this job is comfortable. They only sit in an office, wear office suits and ties, work in an air-conditioned room. They prefer to have an easy way rather than analyzing what they could do with the job. Once they favor to only grab the comfortable and easy life, they will not be much developed.
Therefore, it requires youth to train and perfect their skills both hard and soft skills. I believe they should start looking for an entry-level job or an internship in their second year of university. They can use the first year as a foundation to build their academic performance, and second year to start gaining experience. Those who start working early mostly get a good employment after they graduate as I have observed.
YT: What are some weaknesses that our youths have in comparison to other youths in the region?
San Chey: I will begin with communication. Once we enter ASEAN, we should know one of ASEAN languages; at least know the basic conversational dialogues. We say that English is an international language and there are many international schools here, but if we ask for the ones who can communicate professionally in English, in which university year will they be able to do this?
Also, we should have salesperson skills to ease the communication. They should be able to promote and market themselves to others. If we are to promote one thing, we should be able to know everything about what we are promoting.
YT: From what we have seen, some youths tend to work in a field that is different from what they studied. Do you see this as a problem? What can be done to improve this?
San Chey: There are cases in Thailand or Philippines where students do not work in the field that they studied in, but this is not what they plan to grab as their career. Those who did not work in the right field of their studies face two main problems. One, they could not utilize their skills for the right job.
Two, they get lower pay than those who are specialized in the skill.
The government should have a national survey mentioning the prioritized jobs that the country needs for the next five to ten years so that youths can use the survey report to decide which major to pursue. Also, with the information from the survey, the education institutions must prepare their majors and curriculum in response to those prioritized jobs.
YT: How can students in the provinces prepare themselves for ASEAN integration?
San Chey: Those living in Phnom Penh have received a lot of information about the integration, but for the provincial students, both the chances to obtain information and the chances to get a better education are still a challenge. There is very little chance for them to be able to do any research to broaden their knowledge. So to address that, there is a new method. Students can do exchange visits between city students with rural (provincial) students. The visit can take place as a camping activity to exchange experiences between the two sides. It’s better than going to visit a beer manufacturing company to taste their beer. This does not allow them to learn the management of that company, but only to see and learn about their product.
The exchange can be in triangular form between National to Local level, global to national level, and global to local level. We cannot just learn between the national visits, we have to learn from other countries too through regional exposure.
YT: Are Cambodian youths well-prepared for the ASEAN integration this December?
San Chey: The way I see it, only the ones who know they know. Those who do not know, still have no idea what the integration is like. So those who are hard-working will keep trying. There are those who tend to wait and think that everything is still ok. This is the attitude that some students tend to have because they have never face hardships. So when we talk about the challenges that they are to face, they might think we are lying. Just like when the government cracked down on the National Exam cheating last year. Many students thought they were being lied to until they saw it with their own eyes. Then the wakeup bell rang.
Youths will begin their realization when they finally face the challenge so right now, some of them haven’t been woken up yet. Likewise, this ASEAN integration will be the same. Until the day comes or one or two years later, they will realize how challenging it is. So, I say let the situation teach and change them. – Khmertimes/Muny Sithyna Wednesday, 11 November 2015
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