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University of California at Berkeley to implement $15M investment for digital skills in Cambodia

Harrison White

A new $15 million USAID-funded initiative that will give young Cambodians the skills to compete in the digital economy by working with Cambodian higher education institutions to strengthen courses and programs for students in the area of information and communication technology.

The initiative was launched at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh by U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy and Minister of Education Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron. 

The University of California at Berkeley will implement the five-year “USAID Digital Workforce Development project” along with Cambodian partner institutions.

Cambodian firms demanding more ICT-related skills

According to a recent UNDP Cambodia report, firms predict demand for ICT-related skills will increase at an average rate of 30 percent over the next two years with growing demand for ICT sales professionals, software developers, digital marketers, web developers, graphic designers, and database managers.

The report found that only 6.4 percent of student respondents were pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer and information sciences or related fields. Most (42.7 percent) were enrolled in business courses, followed by foreign languages and education.

Phnom Penh dominates ICT education, with 12,335 students enrolled in ICT programs, pointing to a disparity in opportunity for urban versus rural students. Battambang ranked second on the list with 792 ICT students.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Chanda Pen Chief of Party for the USAID Digital Workforce Development project outlined that digital skills and education are enabling factors for employment in today’s job market.

Chanda Pen Chief of Party for the USAID Digital Workforce Development project.

“Skill mismatches and shortages are common in developing countries/economies. It can slow innovation and the adoption of innovative technologies. This is especially prevalent in Cambodia, where skill mismatches and shortages remain for both ICT and non-ICT students,” Chanda said.

“In Cambodia, ICT enrollment is concentrated in the capital, and the Kingdom’s STEM enrollment remains low. In addition, Covid-19 has impacted both ICT and non-ICT studies. Meaning, that the pandemic is also to likely have widened the digital divide between urban and rural students,” Chanda added.

Improving digital skills in Cambodia and its workforce

The USAID Digital Workforce Development project is hoped to improve the digital skills of Cambodia’s youth and professionals so the country will improve its competitiveness in a global economy that is increasingly technology-reliant and requires a digitally skilled labor force.

The new activity will work with Cambodian higher education institutions to strengthen courses and programs for students in the area of information and communication technology. It will also help those institutions meet recognized educational standards so that employers can recruit Cambodian graduates, with confidence. 

Scholarships and networking opportunities will be a priority for the new project so that Cambodian students and youth can build their skills and find job opportunities that match their education.

The project will also bridge Cambodia’s private sector and local universities by creating job opportunities through internships in collaboration with the private sector. The project will put a high priority on inclusivity, to ensure that youth from all backgrounds can access the opportunities it will offer.

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