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Encouraging foreign talent will play a key role in the post-pandemic growth of Cambodia

Tom Starkey

The Cambodian government has done a hugely successful job of making fertile ground for foreign talent and investment within the Kingdom.

Now, key stakeholders in Cambodia’s business community say that while Cambodia leads the way regionally in the post-Covid era, attracting and harnessing foreign talent will be a key element in seeing the resumption of impressive pre-pandemic growth levels moving forward.

Narath Chheav, Managing Director of CoGen Consulting Group, Board Member & Chairman of HR Committee at EuroCham Cambodia and Senior Advisor to Mett Yeung Association told Cambodia Investment Review that foreign talent has a uniquely positive impact given the current demographic of the Khmer workforce.

Our workforce is relatively young and therefore we are eager to learn new knowledge and skills to develop ourselves. Foreign professionals and foreign investors have been generating significant and positive impacts on the Cambodian workforce and the economy as a whole,” Narath said.

He explained that the sharing and transfer of knowledge and skills – and the jobs created by foreigners in Cambodia – are great examples of how the presence of foreign professionals has been beneficial to the country and its economic and social development.

Foreign professionals who come to live and work in Cambodia bring with them not only technical knowledge and skills but also various management and leadership styles,” Narath added

A fast track to growth

Soreasmey Ke Bin, Chairman of the French Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Confluences Market Access also stated that foreign talent remains interlinked with Cambodia’s future.

“If we want our economy to grow faster, we need more talent. Whether that comes locally, through expatriates, or from Cambodians overseas,” Soreasmey said.

“I believe the [foreign talent] contribution has been and will be significant in many if not all sectors. The Cambodian market definitely needs more ex-pats both to create new businesses and to join existing companies,” Soreasmey added.

French-Cambodia Business Forum
Soreasmey Ke Bin (right).

Although Soreasmey reflected that while different inbound nationalities have brought varied sector interests, an important element of the migration is how complimentary ex-pats and the local workforce are working together.

“Hosting and harnessing ex-pat business communities is key in attracting and retaining foreign talents. I believe the multinational chambers of commerce established here have done a tremendous job in keeping our business communities alive and united, especially during the darkest hours of COVID,” Soreasmey said.

“Coupled with the good management of the pandemic by the Cambodian government and also by the community itself gives even more reason for foreign talents to consider Cambodia as their next place to work,” Soreasmey added.

Big opportunity for recruiters

Josh Downs, Co-founder of Cambodian-based HR solutions company Next Step International told Cambodia Investment Review that while foreigner workers remain at around 80,000 to 100,000 – some 0.6% of the population – the country’s favorable conditions and growth will continue to put Cambodia on the map as a destination to live and work.

“We foresee a big opportunity for both recruiters and international talent coming to Cambodia,” Downs said.

“While the pandemic will play a factor, Cambodia’s aim for graduation from an LDC within the next five years is evidence of an ambitious economy. This will be attractive to international talent for a multitude of reasons, notwithstanding its aim for upper-middle income status by 2030,” he added.

Josh Downs.

Downs explained that a natural bi-product of economic growth is job creation, and effective recruitment of global talent will not only help businesses optimize productivity and performance but help upskill local talent to meet emerging sector demands.

The Asian Development Bank reports Cambodia’s labor force still has relatively low skills and low educational attainment, a problem facing its overall development agenda.

While this might be the case currently, Statista showed that traditional industries, such as agriculture, which revolves around largely unskilled and informal work, shrunk by some 25% while the service and industry sectors grew by 11% and 12% respectively. 

“Therein lies an opportunity for Cambodia, to enhance skillsets on the ground by integrating global workforces in-country,” Downs added.

Foreign interest

A prime example of foreign talent’s impact in Cambodia is Group CFO at iCare Benefits – the leading buy-now-pay-later firm in Cambodia and Laos – Pablo F. Alonso Caprile.

Not only has iCare benefits succeeded in becoming a profitable company within the Kingdom – resulting in job creation and generating new revenue ­– but the social impact of his businesses has reduced the need for low-income factory workers to resort to shark loans for essential products.

To read more about the retail technology social enterprise iCare Benefits Group click here.

Speaking on international migration, Caprile said that the government’s policy to open Cambodia to foreign talent and investment is paying dividends. 

“I see a lot of effort from the Cambodian government to support foreign talent and operators who come into Cambodia, which in turn has boosted its economic development,” Caprile said.

Pablo F. Alonso Caprile (far left).

“It is a hospitable place to work, the timelines are quick re getting a visa and investment into Cambodia, it’s geared towards a start-up system. This allows foreign talent to come in and run a business while also supporting an in-country ecosystem,” he added.

While Caprile identifies his own business as down-to-market opportunities, he said international talent coming into the Kingdom, equipped with ideas and good execution, offers a lot to the Cambodian business space.

“There are still a lot of opportunities, if you come with ideas and knowledge, here you can live as a foreign entrepreneur successfully, with streamlined visa and paperwork, without the red tape associated with other countries,” Caprile said.

Symbiotic and sustainable relationships 

While opportunities remain ripe for international talent and the Kingdom, Narath Chheav said that acknowledging different cultural working models remains key to creating harmony between Cambodian and foreign business.

It is important for foreign professionals to make efforts to understand local tradition, culture, and local context to work well with Cambodians by showing respect and creating favorable conditions to facilitate the coaching and transfer of knowledge and skills. On the other hand, Cambodian need to take responsibility to work hand in hand with foreign professionals to develop themselves as well as Cambodia’s economy,” Narath said.

 He added that different countries have different cultures and foreign professionals also have different styles of management and leadership. 

“An enriched and diversified working environment has allowed Cambodians to explore, experience, observe, and learn to adapt to these modern ways of management. Mixed with local practices and wonderful Cambodian culture, this creates a dynamic working environment,” Narath said.

Narath Chheav.

Narath added, “I have seen countless success stories of many Cambodians who take advantage of working with locals and foreigners to adopt a prosperous management and leadership style of their own that enables them to take their own career or business to the next level.”

Josh Downs agreed, saying that the opportunity to live and work in Cambodia presents benefits for all actors.

“The skills and business acumen that will be brought over will directly benefit Cambodia. We know from experience that international talent has a positive impact. An opportunity within Cambodia is always well received because it is an exciting and emerging economy in which to learn, share knowledge and promote business,” Downs said.

Speaking on the future of foreign migration to the Kingdom, Narath said that the Cambodian government, via the Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC), has adopted the Investment Law and related regulations to further facilitate the ease of investing and doing business in Cambodia, something which will be especially key in the post-pandemic.

The government has been putting effort into strengthening and diversifying its economy since before the pandemic. We know that with the current impact of the pandemic, the government is looking at all possibilities to diversify the economy. It’s also a governmental priority to ensure a more favorable business climate to attract foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Narath said.

“I believe the availability of foreign talent is one of the key factors that make Cambodia one of the great investment destinations in South East Asia,” Narath added.

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