Training Shortfall Threatens Economic Growth: ADB

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The capital city Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Photo/VOD Archive)
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The Asian Development Bank has warned that Cambodia’s rapid economic growth has been put at risk by a growing gap between the skills demanded by industry and the poor education and training of the population.

Forecasting another strong year for the economy at 7 percent growth — down slightly from last year’s 7.3 percent due to slowdowns expected in China and elsewhere — the ADB in its flagship Asian Development Outlook annual report said the country had thus far achieved high growth on the back of low-cost labor.

“This phase of its development drawing to a close,” said the report, which was released on Wednesday.

“Sustaining strong growth in the future will increasingly require the country to build a skilled workforce that can easily adapt to rapid technological changes sweeping the global economy,” it said.

Citing the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, the report noted that on the basis of dropout rates, average years of schooling and educational quality, Cambodia fell far short of competitors such as Vietnam, though it edged out Laos and Myanmar.

“A worsening mismatch between the skills demanded by industry and business and those imparted to youth in school, including in institutions that specialize in technical and vocational education and training (TVET), is the most important factor causing this skills gap,” it said.

“Unless it can be closed expeditiously, Cambodia will squander the demographic dividend it enjoys in having a young and expanding workforce.”

Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union president Ath Thorn said Cambodian workers only had access to short-term, low-quality training and were confined to the bottom rungs of the labor force.

Most factory workers were also only given short-term contracts, making it difficult to pursue — and unlikely that they would be offered — vocational training, Thorn added.

“Recently, the government has tried to provide many vocational trainings, and yet we don’t see any reports showing that our workers are able to attain good positions or higher levels of management,” he said.

Nget Chou, an economic researcher, said the issue plagued the manufacturing and construction sectors, where Cambodians struggled to compete with foreigners for higher-level positions and jobs that require specialized skills or expertise.

Vocational training in the country was still limited in both number and quality, he said, and urged the government to implement further policies to address the situation.

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