Contribution by Amaury de Saint Blanquat, CEO of Saint Blanquat & Associates
The infamous “skills gap” is supposed to be the main concern and source of headache for employers in Cambodia. But the reality is more complex and not so depressing.
As a human resources professional, I regularly receive complaints from employers about the difficulty of finding and retaining skilled employees in the country. It is true that building a good team is not easy in Cambodia but there are good reasons for that. And, looked at from a long-term perspective, some of those reasons are positive for the future.
The first thing that investors must understand is that in Cambodia there is very little unemployment in urban areas for those who have some qualifications: skilled workers are in high demand. Cambodians manage their personal and professional networks quite well and are flexible in the roles they take. They will easily move from a job in an international company to a role in a small family business without questioning their career plan. Though they usually like working alongside foreigners, they do not necessarily run after those jobs, and posting a job on the Internet will rarely generate an overload of CVs from locals.
Second, investors need to revise their image of Cambodian employees being cheap. Seen from Europe and the West, the image of Cambodia is still Khmer Rouge, Angkor Wat and poor people who will work for very little. Indeed, many employers consider that paying very low salaries is standard practice in Cambodia, but this is not true anymore: salaries have increased at a considerable pace over the past five years for qualified employees, supervisors and middle managers. When I hear complaints about employees who left their job without notice, my first question is: “How much were you paying him/her?”
Third, Cambodian people do care about their personal life (what a surprise!). Ten years ago, before the labour code was implemented, everybody was working on Saturdays and annual leave was not even mentioned in employment contracts (if there was a contract). Today, most Cambodians know about their rights as employees and you often see someone quitting a job for a lower salary if they can have their Saturday free and the 18 days of annual leave they are entitled to.
So, investors coming to Cambodia should understand that they will be recruiting employees in a country where they are very welcome, but not necessarily essential; where successful recruitment requires headhunting and convincing; and where they must take good care of their employees if they want to retain them. This is often a surprise for entrepreneurs and investors who come here underestimating the cost of their labour force and hoping to avoid labour code compliance in order to optimise profits.
Now to the infamous skills gap: we all know that huge steps must be taken over a prolonged period of time in order to improve the education and vocational training system in Cambodia. As an investor and an employer, you should consider that an internal training plan will be part of your HR costs. The good news is that Cambodians are hungry to learn and are very flexible in trying out new jobs.
Being an employer in Cambodia has its constraints, like any country. However, I like to look at the evolution of the employment market in this way: Paying fair salaries contributes to building a middle class, which will support the development of the economy, which includes your company. Working with people who like to be treated well and who like to socialise on weekends is one reason why we enjoy such a high quality of life in Cambodia. And as investors, transmitting our knowledge and skills to a young population willing to learn is a good way to give more value to our role. This is part of the corporate social responsibility that we should all consider as one of our priorities as leaders.
Amaury de Saint Blanquat is the founder and managing director of Saint Blanquat & A., the premier Human Resources and Management Consulting firm in Cambodia. He is also the founder and managing director of Management Academy, TopJob Cambodia and Management Insider magazine, and the founder of the French International School.