Some thoughts on solving the skill mismatch dilemma
By Vanly Keomuda
“What is your future prospect for choosing this major?”
I first heard the question above on the first day that I began a new chapter in my life — the very first day that I started college. I remembered my lecturer going around the classroom asking everyone this simple, but profound question. Back then, I remembered hearing all kinds of ambitious and optimistic answers from my classmates regarding their future jobs after graduating from the Department of International Studies. Some said that they want to work in an International Organization, others said to work for the government, particularly in the Foreign Affairs section, while the rest wanted to work in research or in policy making. There were also students, including myself, who would dare to be as ambitious as to say that we want to be diplomats. Everyone was so enthusiastic when answering the question above and that was typical for the newly high school graduates.
I thought the optimism would last, until the same question was asked once again on the first day of the first semester of sophomore year. Tensions rose when lecturers once again went around the classroom and asked “After a year in this major, what is your future prospect?” Some still maintained the same answer as their first year — they wanted to work in International Organizations, in Foreign Affairs, in research, and in policy making. However, the difference between the sophomore year answer and the freshmen year answer was that there was an uncertain feeling that could be detected in the new answers. Not a single person, including myself, was confident about the future as we were in the first year. Some of my classmates were even brave enough to admit that their goals/paths have changed, and their future is blurry.
The follow up question would be “why?” “Why is there a change in the certainty for future prospect?” When asked, my classmates and I had the same answers. We could not see the correlation between what we are studying and the future job/career that we longed for. It is hard to find the connection between the hard skills that we acquired and what is needed in the actual world. The knowledge on world history, international relations theories, and political studies do not seem to be sufficient enough for the actual working environment. There was no guidance on how the information we are acquiring in class would be a great input to the career paths that we set for our future.
On top of the issue of uncertainty, there is also another issue that my classmates and I realized would hinder our future prospects. The issue came to us in our Professional Communication class when the lecturer asked us the method of job searching in Cambodia, particularly where to seek for information about job openings in the country. After hearing the question, the majority of the people’s faces went blank and I could tell that they were as panicked as I was because we just realized we had no access to those kinds of information at all.
This long story of my classmates and I are typical challenges that the majority of youths in Cambodia face when seeking jobs and on this World Youth Skills day, the issue should be made aware of. Youth unemployment is an issue in Cambodia. According to UNFPA, in 2014, youth unemployment rate is at 2.4 percent, among whom were self-employed or were unpaid family workers. Unemployment rate is the highest with youth in possession of university degree which is at 7.3% of the youth unemployment rate. The reason for this is because of a mismatch between skills acquired and demands in the market, the lack of job-search abilities, and the ability to properly link their college education and the labour market (OECD, 2018). This is a serious issue that should be made known in order for a solution to be found in addressing the issue of unemployment among youths with college degrees.
To deal with these issues, I do have some personal experience that I think would help ease the tension on the issues.
First is to start building up your working experience since college by applying for internships and doing volunteer works. The internship and volunteer experiences are the best ways for you to be more familiar with the working environment, to evaluate the type of skills that are required for the jobs, and to start making a correlation between the hard skills that are learned in college to the actual working world; that is, to see how the theories and principles that you learned in class are applied in the actual world. For the issue of inability to access information, I would think that the best way is to start building up your connections. Start by joining conferences, seminars or any formal events and activities hosted by your university and other companies or organizations related to your field of study. This way, you would be able to access to a larger source of information and are more exposed to opening opportunities.
The final and most important advice that I was given was to start making opportunities for myself instead of waiting for it to be opened; that is, to apply for the job, the position, and the place that you want to work in, despite their unopened announcement. The reason is that you never know if the place that you wish to work at actually has an opening but does not make public announcements, or you would never know if your resume might actually catch the attention of the employers, even though there is no job opening.
Be bold and start making opportunities for yourselves. Finally, Happy World Youth Skills day!!!
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.