When Covid-19 first began to appear in news reports in 2019, few people could have predicted the long term impacts it would have, or the reality of a global health crisis. The effects are still being felt across the world, with Cambodia being no exception.
While the travel restrictions and fears of further lockdowns led to a visible drop in tourist numbers and the decimation of the international hospitality industry, the textile and garment sectors have faced major challenges. Tens of thousands of workers were made redundant as factories received less and less orders.
Due to this situation, the government – through the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training – launched programmes to introduce new skills to the laid off workers.
In 2021, the ministry trained hard skills to 6,500 workers, and also organised soft skills training for 68,000 workers, including 54,799 women, from 108 factories.
For 2022, the ministry has highlighted 7,500 training places for workers to get key technical and vocational skills which are in high demand in the market, and are expected to remain so into the future.
Phoeurn Sokhalay received four months training in baking in early 2021, and now runs a family bakery in her hometown in Prey Veng province’s Sithor Kandal district.
She learnt her new skills from a ministry programme after she lost her job as a maid for a private company in Phnom Penh.
“Nowadays, I run a small family bread and cake shop in the district. I opened in December 2021 after completing a short course that provided training and guidance on the use of products and baking from specialist instructors. People in my village recognise that the cakes I make are of a higher quality than most – and tastier, too,” she said.
She added that her skills had helped her to be financially stable. She is no longer a maid, but has her own successful business.
“Most importantly, I am proud of myself, and I can pass my knowledge on to future generations. I am strengthening myself and helping the people of my village to access good food. Even though my cakes are a little more expensive, the quality is of international standard,” she said.
A garment factory worker from Phnom Penh, Mao Lim said that in 2021, he was laid off due to the pandemic.
Lim told The Post that during his suspension, in addition to receiving government subsidies, he had also received theoretical or soft skills training from the ministry.
“When the Covid-19 situation was better enough that we could meet in person, we received training at my factory. The officials showed us all about how businesses work and how to plan our own pricing and track expenses. We learnt how to approach business with a clear position and goals in place, and not to take risks. We also learned new embroidery skills,” he said.
He added that the soft skills training had encouraged him to consider the opportunity of starting his own business while taking a break from factory work.
“In the future, if I sense that the timing is right, I will seize the opportunity to open a small company relating to the skills I have. In the meantime, I am enthusiastic about undergoing more training with the ministry, and strengthening my skills and abilities,” he said.
The ministry on August 4 released a survey that found that more than 45 per cent of those who received technical and vocational training, or TVET, from 1-4 levels held technical positions. Managerial and specialist positions accounted for more than 17 per cent of the TVET graduates.
The study also showed that more than 13 per cent of the graduates had found work in the field of automotive mechanics, a growth industry. Slightly over five per cent had opened businesses or referred to themselves as entrepreneurs.
Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights programme manager Khun Tharo said that if all citizens are multi-skilled, it will be easier to meet the demands of the job market, and will lead to employees who are prepared to take on new roles without fear.
He added that providing additional skills training for workers was the best way to protect Cambodian workers, as most had only one speciality – and that left them vulnerable to changes in the workplace.
“Training programmes, I think, should fit the context of the community and the job market around them. In the past, we also found that when they do not have information about the job market near their homes then their skills do not match what is needed – leading many workers to migrate,” he said.
Tharo wanted to see the government continue to support workers during and after training so that they have full-time access to effective skill development.
“We should not just focus on workers who have lost their jobs – we should also focus on employees who are working. If they want to increase their capacities and skills, it is good. This is also in line with the context of the modern job market in Cambodia,” he said.
Thorng Samon, deputy director-general of the ministry’s Department of Technical Vocational Education and Training Management, said the short-term training provided by the ministry was not the sole benefit provided to the workers. Trainees had also received allowances while they were studying, with some qualifying for free accommodation.
He added that providing access to short-term programmes – whether trainees received additional skills training or skills development training – gave trainees the tools they would need to qualify for job opportunities in the current and future labour markets.
“I want the workers to take an interest in developing their skills. In particular, we have helped orient them to various job opportunities and consultations,” he added.
He said that in the last five years, the ministry has provided short-term skills training to an average of 30,000 trainees a year. The total five years had seen at least 150,000 trainees receive short skills training from the ministry.