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Youth Fear Impending Job Competition With Asean

"Youth and ASEAN Integration" forum which was organized in Phnom Penh on Sunday 16th November 2014. (Photo by Say Mony).

University students in Cambodia say it is getting too late for them to prepare for a shared job market in the upcoming Asean integration in late next year.

“Youths in other Asean countries have prepared themselves for the past five or 10 years, but we just started this year, so I am worried that we cannot catch up with them,” Sok Chanbormey, a student from the Royal University of Economics and Law, said in an interview on Sunday.

“I have the same concern, because our education system is weaker than that of other Asean countries, so when the Asean integration comes, we won’t be able to get good jobs as good as theirs,” said Ouch Sakhornlakhena, a student from the same university.

All 10 Asean countries are set to form and EU-style community, allowing the free movement of goods and services between them at the end of 2015. Analysts say Cambodia lacks the skilled labor to compete in such a community, and youth say they fear it is too late to catch up to the impending job market.

“We should have strengthened our education quality long ago, because the Asean integration initiative started 10 years ago, not just in the last few years,” Heng Pheakdey, the founder of Enrich Institute, a youth-empowering and training organization, said in an interview on the sidelines of a forum on youth and Asean integration in Phnom Penh Sunday. “The government’s policy is good and clear, but that policy has not been conveyed comprehensively to the grassroots levels.”

Government officials say awareness of Asean integration has been campaigned widely. Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said the government has also been reforming the education sector with a strengthened focus on science, to prepare students for integration.

“So far, we have more students interested in social sciences than real sciences like engineering,” he said. “When investors come, they find it hard to find the right people with the needed skills, so we need those with those skills to meet the investors’ demands.”

Other experts, however, say Cambodian youths should not worry too much about the job availability if they study hard and focus on specific skills. Economic analyst Chan Sophal said when youths are knowledgeable and skillful, it’s not difficult to find work in the Asean community.

“There could be some people coming from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam or Thailand, but if we work in our country and we know our language and English and have a specialized skills, then our competitive level is very high,” he said.

Like Sok Chanbormey and Ouch Sakhornlakhena, Ros Dane, another student from the Royal University of Economics and Law, said although they are worried about job availability after integration, they see it as a chance to compete in the region.

“I like competition, because we can know our own abilities better, compared to other youths in other economies,” she said. “I will study harder and get a good job to develop my country, to reach a developed-country status like others.”