Construction and Property Magazine was granted an exclusive interview with Kouch Samean, Deputy General Director of the National Employment Agency (NEA). He shared his insights on labour supply in the construction sector, initiatives to enhance technical education, and what the AEC means for the job market.


1. Since the NEA’s establishment in 2009, how many Cambodian workers has it helped gain jobs? What percentage of these are construction workers?

Since 2009, around 9,000 jobseekers have directly got jobs through our placement service. This number does not include jobseekers who gained jobs via our services and did not it report to us or indirectly got jobs via our services. Furthermore, there are more than 200,000 jobseekers who have directly benefited from our public employment services including mobile career fairs, national career fairs, career guidance, employment counselling, referral services, soft skills training etc.

The proportion of people who have gained through our services in the construction sector is quite low compared to the manufacturing industry, particularly garments and light manufacture. The reasons are that high skilled and semi-skilled workers, which are the most in-demand occupations, can easily get a job compared to other professions, and they don’t need direct assistance from NEA. Whilst, the low-skilled labour is normally dominated by traditional recruitment methods like networking, mouth to mouth, recommendation, and so on.

2. Of the annual applications the NEA receive, what percentage are for construction or property related professions? How does this match with the number of positions available in the market?

The proportion of construction and property related professions is limited and it represents less than 5 percent of total professional occupations. With this number, there is huge gap compared to the number of vacancies collected by NEA in this sector.

3. How would you describe the situation of labour supply for the construction industry in Cambodia? Is there an under or oversupply?

The labour supply for the Cambodian economy as well as for the construction sector is characterised by young workers but with low skills and education attainment. According to the data from Cambodian Labour Force Survey 2012 conducted by NIS, around 50.8 percent of Cambodians are below 25 years old but the majority of Cambodia labour forces have only primary education. For instance, 68.1% of the labour forces aged more than 15 years old have attainted an education less than or equal to primary education. It emerges clearly that Cambodia has a potential supply of unskilled labour but limited supply of skills labour.

4. By 2018, Cambodia needs 35,000 engineers and 46,000 technicians in the workforce to meet employer demands. Statistics show that STEM and construction-related graduates can go into jobs such as site engineer or civil engineer which pay significantly more than jobs in the finance or marketing sectors for example. Is there currently a skills mismatch in the graduate / labour market and what is the NEA doing to overcome this?

This year, the Royal Government of Cambodia launched the Industrial Development Policy 2015-2025 in order to boost the economic growth and to diversify Cambodia’s economy. Under this policy, one of richest sources of employment creation and economic growth will be jobs that require skills in these areas (STEM). According to a employer skills needs survey conducted by NEA in 2015, about one fourth of job vacancies are difficult to fill simply because of a lack of people with the right skills, qualification and experience. The most skills lacking in current labour market are technical skills and practical skills. The hard to fill vacancies are skilled positions which are well paid occupations like mechanics, operators, technician, civil engineer, site engineer, IT specialist, etc. So for Cambodia, in the future, STEM-related skills are not only a source of jobs but also a source of jobs that pay very well. However, the question is: will we be able to educate enough our people to fill those jobs?

5. Are graduates from state and private education institutions suitably qualified for employment by local and international construction companies? What strengths and weaknesses do they have and how can the state and private sector do more to appropriately prepare students for employment post-graduation?

Based on our recruitment experiences, there is no difference between the quality of education provided by state and private education institutions because most of students who graduate from these subjects are quite easy to transit from school to work, particularly the students from TVET institutions under the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. In addition to the quality of education offered by schools, the preparedness of students for employment also depends on the \'self factor\' regarding self improvement, looking for employment opportunities, commitment, and soft skills.

6. How much of a challenge is external migration of construction sector labour for local companies seeking skilled and unskilled workers? Does the NEA partner with companies to help them fill their labour requirements?

The higher wage and greater demand for labour from other countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea and so on have been considered as pull factors that encourage Cambodia people to migrate to find better economic opportunities. Therefore, the outflow of people to other countries has been causing the wage pressure in the domestic labour market. In addition to the wage factor, the lack of local labour market information, particularly local job opportunities is considered one of main causes of migration. To tackle those problems, the NEA has introduced the communication strategic plan which focuses on outreach activities including: organising a series of mobile career fairs at the community level, conducting regular employment forums, organising regular career and vocational guidance and counselling at school level, and so on.

7. Will ASEAN Economic Integration have a significant impact on the labour market in the construction and property sectors? What trends in the movement of labour do you expect to see and does the NEA have any plans to provide support to the local labour market post-AEC?

There are pros and cons regarding the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) particularly regarding free labour mobility. However, AEC is not an option but represents an unavoidable precondition for economic growth and social development. However, in 2015 under the new ASEAN Free Labour Markets so-called "white-collar" work in professions such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, engineering, architecture and accounting will be the first areas of the labour market to be freed up. Under the ASEAN context, the free flow of labour will allow all the member states to mobilise and utilise the surplus of labour.

In this case, there will be tough skills competition in the construction profession but the degree of competition depends on the wage differential, the rate of economic growth and the development, the level of coordination, facilitation and management of the labour mobility within ASEAN, and so on.

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