Author: KHIENG Sothy, PhD - October , 2015
Full Authors: Dr Chhem Rethy, Dr Khieng Sothy and Dr Srinivasa Madhur
Cambodia has achieved strong growth in the past two decades and the country is now on the verge of graduating to lower-middle-income status with a per capita income of about USD1000, a feat that neighbouring Vietnam realised in 2010 and Laos in 2011 (CDRI 2013; Madhur and Menon 2014). Building on this success, the government’s aspiration is for Cambodia to break through to the upper-middle-income range (with per capita income of about USD4000, comparable to that of Thailand in 2010 and Indonesia in 2013) by 2030 and reach the high-income ranks (with per capita income of above USD12,000) by 2050 (RGC 2014).
As the country traverses its middle-income path, several factors could constrain growth and development. There is broad consensus among Cambodia’s policymakers, the private sector, development experts and development partners (bilateral and multilateral) that an emerging skill gap is one such factor. Skilled human resources even for low-to-medium skill intensive industries are in increasingly short supply. Moreover, the gap between the human resource skills that industries and businesses need and what the education institutions, whether academic or vocational training, are producing is widening almost every year (Madhur 2014). Cambodia will have to tackle this growing skill gap if it is to achieve its vision of becoming an upper-middle-income country in the next two decades and subsequently move up the development ladder.
Interestingly, a skill gap is emerging for the industrial and the service sectors, even as the country has uneducated surplus labour in the countryside and educated but unemployed and underemployed youth in the cities. A poor education system seems to provide the missing link that explains this conundrum of the co-existence of labour surplus and skill shortages (Madhur 2014). Unless the country addresses a whole gamut of issues besetting the development of a robust education system, it will run the risk of being caught in a slow growth middle-income trap. Getting Cambodia’s education system right is critical in closing the skill gap.
(On study leave)
Senior Research Fellow
Research Fellow / Unit Head