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CamSEED paving the way for paid internships in Cambodia

Brian Badzmierowski

He hasn’t graduated high school yet but Hao Sophareth is already trying his hand at entrepreneurship. By offering high-quality interns mentored by Hao and his team at CamSeed, he’s convincing more companies to pay for internships, an idea that is foreign to many locally-owned companies.

With the launch of the newly formed organization’s 1,000 Internships Campaign, Hao and his team are shooting for companies to commit to 1,000 paid internships over the next year, with a minimum of 50 percent being offered to female students.

To sign up for the 1,000 paid internship pledge click here.

Recent high school graduates in Phnom Penh often find themselves struggling to find paid work experience, putting them in a bind as they struggle to pay bills. If they are lucky enough to find an internship, it’s often unpaid.

Typically, Hao said, top companies will swoop into universities and snatch the top five percent of the class, offering them internships with the opportunity for future employment. The rest of the students are often left behind, without much support from the school to find solid work experience.

For students who traveled far from home to study in the capital and those with financial hardships, this can be a daunting realization. Some graduates are forced to return home if they can’t manage to find an internship and secure an income to pay rent.

“They spend a lot of money on their rent, on their meals, on their transportation, and they still need to sustain themselves studying. Providing them with only unpaid internships is a barrier and it could close down opportunities,” Hao said.

This is where Hao sees CamSeed making an impact. Many employers in Phnom Penh view internships as three-month unpaid interviews to “sort out talent”, as Hao puts it. The interns require mentorship and support, and expectations aren’t usually high.

Hao said international companies are usually more willing to pay interns, while locally-owned companies have tighter budgets and a different mindset.

“Businesses that are tight on their budget more have the mindset that the intern should be grateful to be able to onboard with their company just to learn and experience the work culture. But they don’t see the point in paying their interns,” he said.

CamSeed Student Lead Dany Srik, Host Organization lead Hao Sophareth, and Technical Lead Oddomneath Ly.

To solve the issue, CamSeed offers workshops and training programs to recent grads to prep them for success in the workplace. Through a vetting process, CamSeed ensures the recent grads it works with are mentally prepared to work and learn on the job. 

To read more about the importance of developing Cambodia’s workforce productivity click here.

Companies feel more comfortable paying motivated interns, the probability of being hired goes up, and the intern gains valuable work experience.

Hao said he’s also working with partners to keep the maximum length of internships to three months, with companies having the option of hiring them after the internship period.

CamSeed collects a one-time fee from organizations that use their service, and interns are paid from day one. The minimum salaries aren’t high — $80 per month for part-time or $150 for full-time – but it’s a starting point and Hao said some earn up to $200 per month for full-time work or up to $150 for part-time work.

Nurturing potential in students

Hao attends E2STEM High School, a public-private partnership between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and NGO E2STEM Education. 

He credits the school for pushing him to explore extracurricular activities, international scholarship opportunities, debate clubs, and programs that could help round out his skills and push him to explore himself.

After realizing the benefits of these extracurricular activities himself, he founded CamPeak in April 2021 to share these experiences with other students via Facebook.

“CamPeak is an initiative that aims to give young people the opportunity to make a difference by summarizing and sharing extracurricular activities on our Facebook page, allowing them to find out what they enjoy doing outside of school,” Hao said.

After struggling to find a sustainable business model for CamPeak, the organization naturally evolved into CamSeed.

“After a while, we started to recognize another problem amongst university students, which is the lack of practical experience, and the rise of unpaid internships in Cambodia. We saw it as a golden chance to come up with a solution to help solve it,” he said.

To read more about CIR Media’s paid internship initiative click here.

Paniet Toeng, a year-two international relations student from Paragon International Unviersity, joined CamSEED’s internship fair in partnership with True Money last December.

The CamSeed team consists of Hao, Placement Manager Oddomneath Ly, Chief Technical Officer Vuthy Yi, and Chief Marketing Officer Phanith Suon. They work mostly remotely, from five to eight in the evening, planning workshops for graduates and reaching out to companies to take part in the initiative.

The team puts an emphasis on providing equal opportunity to all students, regardless of their background or gender. Most of the internships range from roles in marketing, sales, and accounting as well as more creative fields such as graphic design, photography, and video editing.

As they shoot for their goal of 1,000 internships, Hao said he’s hoping CamSeed can change the culture of internships in Cambodia. Instead of a risk, they should be viewed as an opportunity, he said.

“Providing paid internships is very beneficial because you’re not only investing your money in students, you’re also providing them with motivation. They’re not just there to learn, they’re also contributing value to the business as well,” he said. 

A win-win situation

Sandy Kotan, the owner of Only One Planet, a sustainable packaging company in Phnom Penh, has found several interns through CamSeed.

“The quality of the people they have sent has been spot on. In fact, I have never rejected any. It saves me a huge amount of time. Finding this caliber of people would take me ages. All have been bright, eager, and well-suited to the tasks at hand,” she said.

Kotan said she previously relied on foreign interns looking for temporary work, and that usually didn’t work out as planned.

“The problem with that is the learning curve of living and working in Asia. I also prefer to use locals simply because I like the idea of helping them gain some experience in the business environment in Cambodia,” she said.

Ma Sathiarith graduated from a university in South Korea in 2021 and accepted an internship as an administrative assistant at Only One Planet. After his initial three month-stint, he stayed on for another two and said he learned valuable experience as he pursues a career in business.

“Being able to grab the opportunity to intern as an administrative assistant at Only One Planet, I got to learn what the day-to-day operations of an actual business look like. I had an incredible mentor, which I am really thankful for,” he said.

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