Women Take up Technical Roles

Cambodia is seeing an increase in women who shun tradition to enter male-dominated technical jobs. However, the pandemic has sparked a drop in the number of enrolments.
Soeun Phanna poses for picture at a garage in Phnom Penh. Picture: Sam
Soeun Phanna poses for picture at a garage in Phnom Penh. Picture: Sam

Initially inspired by high demand for the profession and with support from her family, Soeun Phanna did not hesitate to pursue male-dominant major mechanics in her higher education. Today, she is the only woman working in a garage as a spare-part checking person.

In 2018, Phanna finished high school and decided to acquire mechanics at a technical school in Phnom Penh. Like other women, she was criticized at the start by people in her village in Kandal province who told her not to pursue this major as they think it is a man’s job.

‘’This somehow can affect my decision. I used to think of quitting and looking for a women’s career such as an accountant instead. But with huge support from my family, I can overcome those criticisms and look high to do what I wish to,’’ said Phanna.

Soeun Phanna fixes a car at a garage in Phnom Penh. Picture: Sam
Soeun Phanna fixes a car at a garage in Phnom Penh. Picture: Sam

Studying technical skills is challenging for many, and Phanna is no exception. She said it requires a lot of practice and determination and is even harder for her as she did not know much regarding mechanics at the beginning.

‘’There are a lot of technical words in learning about the machines, and it is so hard to catch up,” said Phanna.

Despite all these challenges, she still believes nothing impossible if one is committed to what they are doing. And gender cannot be used to measure the level of intelligence.

‘’I am a woman. I am qualified. I am determined. And I can do all those jobs too,” said Phanna.

Now, it has been more than three years that the 23-year-old has been working in the field. It remains her main source of income, and is what she loves to do despite the shortage of women and social discrimination.

‘’I am the only one woman working in the garage. I am proud of that. And the job does not provide me with much money, but it is enough to support myself and my family as well,” said Phanna.

Tep Senghorn, director of the advertising and marketing office at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, said the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) plays a significant role in developing the country, especially as Cambodia is gradually transforming its economics to industrial-based. With these skills he said graduate students can easily find a better job compared to those who are studying different majors.

‘’In the last five years, there are 812,562 students majoring in TVET have graduated. Among those students, 362,305 are women. However, it still cannot respond to the large demand of these professions in the jobs market,” said Senghorn.

According to Senghorn, the number of students doing majors in TVET, which includes construction, mechanical sector, ICT, and other technical professions, has increased significantly, especially with women as they realize the importance of TVET and the high demand for these professions that can lead to a well-paid job. But during the 2020 academic year, the number of students decreased 17 percent compared to 2019, caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

‘’Despite this positive movement, there are still some challenges emerging especially lacking technical resources. And until today, people still have negative thoughts toward TVET. For many, it is just their second choice,” said Senghorn.

Buth Vicheth, headmaster of Don Bosco Technical School of Sihanouk province, also said the number of enrolments has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it fell from 90 to 60 as students opt for different majors, especially for online casinos in the province where they are provided with a high salary with no experience needed.

‘’We can see a huge gap in enrolments now. There are not so many students interested in it, but they go for an easy well-paid job like working in the casino,’’ said Buth Vicheth.

However, Vicheth hopes that the number of students will rise once COVID-19 is under control and learning can fully be conducted in a physical class.

‘’These technical skills always have high demand in the jobs market. Almost a hundred percent of students are employed after they graduated,” said Vichet.