Experts back Cambodia’s vocational training links with Singapore

Author: Poorna Rodrigo | Date: 29 Mar 2017

Memorandum of understanding will lead to greater ICT, electronics and automotive expertise

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) to tap Singapore’s expertise and hone Cambodians’ workplace skills will help Cambodia diversify its economy beyond its base of exporting textiles and garments, HR experts say.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has signed the agreement with Singapore’s ITE Education Services, which will help train 80 Cambodian technical and vocational trainers in information communications technology, electronics and automotive, over the course of two years.
The agreement compliments another MoU between Singapore's Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Cambodia's Calmette Hospital, in Phnom Penh, where Singaporeans will train Cambodians in intensive care nursing, intensive care medicine and clinical quality professionals over three years.
European business association EuroCham Cambodia’s human resources committee chairman Djamel El Akra said: “MoUs illustrate the role of the private sector in providing training to the workforce.” More importantly, it helps “train the trainers” empowering the trained person, allowing them to sustain those programmes, he said.
Phnom Penh-based HR consultancy AAA Cambodia agreed. “Good training requires good teachers. So the approach of training teachers and giving them exposure to how these skills are developed and used in competitive business environments, such as Singapore, is likely to have a very positive impact on the quality of the training,” said AAA Cambodia’s managing director Susanna Coghlan.
The problem with local trainers in the vocational sector is that they may “not have had much exposure to using skills in a ‘real world’ context’ and opportunities for trainers to keep “upskilling themselves and stay on top of technological developments in their fields is very limited,” she said.
There is arguably no better country than Singapore to learn from, as with hardly any natural resources, it has put skills at the centre of its development strategy. “And this has been a very successful approach,” said Coghlam, whose company provides local businesses with communications and management development skills. Compared with Singapore, “Cambodia has advantages in landmass and some natural resources, but these are still limited - so investing in developing skills workers and quality, sustainable jobs” makes sense, she argued.
The Cambodian government is certainly prioritising skills development. The country’s target of becoming a “developed nation” by 2030 requires a “significant re-targeting of the skills of the workforce with a real focus on the skills of the massive youth cohort in our schools and colleges,” said a draft version of the National Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policy 2017-2015, released in October by the ministry of labour and vocational training.
“Attracting foreign investment based on the skills of the workforce rather than low wages is a major challenge,” it said, pointing out that improving technical and vocational training quality to meet market demands, inside and outside the country is a key goal.
However, a lack of quality assurance systems for programmes, weak training methodology, and a lack of teacher experience, along with poor infrastructure, equipment and regulatory systems compound this challenge.
Worse still is Cambodia’s “negative perception of TVET”, the ministry’s policy said. Often, the emphasis is on getting a university qualification leading to “low-enrolments and high drop-out rates in TVET” and vocational training is frowned upon as “second rate education” – a perception that the government is trying to banish through this policy.