THE High School Exam results of academic year 2018-2019 was announced earlier this week (on Sept 9), giving the green-light to about 80,000 students to further their studies in university. During this break, students have to make a major decision on which institution of higher education to enroll in to match the challenging job market, Lim Viriya, a business professor and soft skill trainer and a Board of Director of Cambodia Women Entrepreneurs Association, talks to Va Sonyka on how to strike a balance between passion and job.
Q: Many fresh high school graduates face the tough decision on which way to go, between choosing a major that fits their passion or a career to match the job market. At this juncture, what is your advice on how a student should find the balance?
A: During my childhood, Information Technology was unsophisticated; so all our decisions were done by guessing within a narrow perspective based on limited information. For instance, I chose what to study based on a ‘real person sample’, meaning that I observed what major they chose and what job they got. Meanwhile, at that time, the government also did not pay attention to this quandary. Therefore, in order to strike a balance between a student’s passion and generating income using their natural talent, students have to think about vocational skills and secondary skills. It is good fortune if their passion happens to be a marketable job. Once they graduated (from high school), they only have to develop their talent with vocational skills. I’m sure that aside from getting a job fast, they can also get to be promoted to a higher position with high salary quickly.
For example, if you like designing arts like painting, fashion design, decoration, etc. When I was young, if I told my family that I want to learn painting; expectedly, they will throw a recommendation that ‘Okay! Go learn painting and then go work in front of the Royal Palace’. Why? Because the elder people and also young people in the past are ‘stupid’ (limited). The reason is because we are still poor, we live like a frog in the well, we don’t have enough information, we don’t know at all that there are people in the world who use their painting talent to generate money and become rich. Now, the students may have a question, how to generate money? I would like to inform that, living in this generation, we cannot find success by just learning one major. We have to get secondary skills to support the main skill. If you only know how to do a great drawing and painting, you still don’t know where to sale it.
Therefore, the secondary skills that I would like to introduce are:
A proficiency in both English reading, writing, and speaking to find short term scholarships abroad for improving existing skill, to participate in a competition, or to have a communication with the outside world for a chance to create and develop businesses, especially to establish online marketing to promote our products in e-Commerce market.
A proficiency in administrative software such as MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint and a knowledge on Photoshop, CorelDraw, etc. which can be developed additionally, to increase our potential to another level.
Smartphone alone will not help substantially at work; the computer is further necessary. With computer, we can save much time as well as improve working skills.
A knowledge of Internet (e-mail, social media, etc.) is also a ‘must’. Official communication is often done via e-mail because it’s safe, efficient, and professional. Even so, social media must not be forgotten as it can provide a chance to get a job smoothly in a competitive market in the 21st Century.
A soft skill often refers to one’s daily routine such as social communication, the art of making friends, etc. What if a student has achieved a skill (such as painting, fashion design), but lack soft skill? she/he may need to spend on hiring others to fill the void. Moreover, if budget is also a constraint, then acquiring soft skill is inevitable.
Q: If asked to choose one, which one should students choose between passion and a marketable university major?
A: Believe me! Your passion leads you to produce quality work. To work in a job that you don’t like gives you an exciting time only in the first few years. Then, you will feel bored. But, if you work a job that you like, you will try all your best, spend all your energy, intelligence, time and everything to make your job great. My friends living in Siem Reap left their thousand-dollar USD salary to pursue their dream of making an educational short film. This job doesn’t give them a positive income, yet, they still try to improve film quality again and again until their films were recognized. I believe that those who are excited in their work has no time to care about what other people think; so they can focus on their job. In the end, they will able to show a strong career path and do people proud.
“Weak people find an existing market but strong people find a niche market after their product is ready,” meaning that producing the product first, then find marketing to make a sale later. If you are also skilled in marketing strategy, it would be great.
Q: What factors do students ponder on to see if the major they select can provide them with high career opportunities on graduation?
A: First of all, if I say that students should study national and international policies, people will surely laugh at me. Why get involved with political issues? Bear in mind that if students are observing the politics in their country and some other countries, they will be able to judge how the influx of foreigners into Cambodia and outflow of Cambodians into other countries affect the labour market here. They will find the gaps (jobs) that need to be filled. Besides, keeping themselves updated on political issues regularly, students may be able to make a quite accurate forecast about the challenges in the next two or three years. The ability to foretell future challenges will assist them in choosing the specialisation that helps them fill the gaps in the labour market.
Evidently, in the meantime, our nation is experiencing a massive influx of foreigners. For nationalists, they expect those foreigners to learn Khmer language. Yet, opportunists will take advantage of those foreigners through studying their languages in order to be able to communicate with them, translate for and help them in their businesses.
We can see a specific example in Bangkok, Thailand. We know that many Thai people in Dindeng and Pathunam study Khmer language. They do not care about anything except to attract Cambodian tourists to stay in their hotels, eat their food and buy their goods. Want or not, they need to study Khmer language. This is therefore the skill which allows you to earn income in line with social trends.
Secondly, they have to measure the popularity of the majors. If too many students are doing it, they should not be part of it lest they may fall into a labour depreciation crisis, which means bigger supply of workers than in demand for a certain field. So far, we have witnessed a huge increase in Accounting and Banking graduates; so huge that some banks opened their accounting schools to absorb students into them. But, what about other majors?
Thirdly, do not judge any trade or specialisation as bad just because you see that most of those working in it are poor or eking out a hard life. For instance, tailoring, baking, cooking, repairing cars, barbering and hairdressing may be viewed by most people as unfavourable since such jobs cannot give you fame. However, those who do these jobs and are still poor have to blame their lack of complementary skills, which I mentioned earlier. If a tailor knows English and how to use computer and email, he or she can evolve into a garment factory owner or a fashion designer, and export their own brand to other countries. Similarly, a chef who speaks English and is computer literate could become the owner of a famous restaurant, with shareholders, branches and even franchises!
Q: Any parting message before students choose a major that fits passion and the job market?
A: I have already addressed all of that. But I would like to mention those ideas again; you should choose to study what you like, and don’t care about the certificate or degree. There are many vocational schools across the country. Once you graduate, you have to use your knowledge to work, not carrying a piece of certificate to show off to people but not knowing what to do.
There are many people who say that “let’s study whatever, at least you have a certificate to stick on your wall to show off your kids”. Please stop wasting time with such an idea. If you are spending four or five years studying, you should choose to study for knowledge you can put to work after graduation. However, without secondary skills, you will find it difficult in a career no matter major or skill you are going to study.