I think the difference has started to emerge now in Cambodia between the way our parents think and the way I and my peers think about employment and making money. The older generation prefer a regular and safe job which gives them a fixed income, but this seems to have gone out of fashion with young people who would like to start their own businesses. This younger generation has taken on entrepreneurial ambition and does not want to wait to be hired.
While studying for our Bachelors program seven years ago, my friends and I used to talk about what we’d do after graduation. While some of us intended to continue with their Masters degree, others wanted to enter the world of business right away. Although we might have had a difference in approach at that time, we somehow wanted to end up on the same path – which is to have our own businesses after a certain period of working for companies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Now in 2012, our old plan for the future has materialized into reality. Some of my friends who keep in touch with me have now set up their own businesses in the Small and Medium Enterprise(SME) sector. These cover a broad spectrum of activities ranging from manufacturing to services, such as brick production, shoe-making, IT services, training and coaching services, socio-economic research and survey services, translation services, and restaurant services, etc. The service sector appears to be the most convenient for startups as it only requires light startup capital and offers an easy exit. Meanwhile, some of my other friends are still working for companies and NGOs, yet still nurture strong ambitions about departing the world of salaried work and running their own business.
The entrepreneurial ambition seems even more prevalent among the generation who are younger than me. As the Cambodian economy has shown remarkable growth in recent years, these younger people are much more materialistic and would like to get rich quick. Some of this new generation of internet-savvy digital natives have even started up in business while still at university with the online selling of clothes, cosmetics and second hand products like computers and phones.
Such a difference of thought on the employment front between the older and younger generations in Cambodia has not happened by chance. It has actually occurred because of continual growth in the economy along with regional and global integration. It has also brought about a change in the gender focus where women now also take the lead in entrepreneurship.
While the integration of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 is viewed by some analysts as a challenge for Cambodian youth given its limited number of high quality human resources and high competition, it is also a great opportunity for young people in Cambodia to explore beyond the borders of their country, allowing them to get new ideas and see innovations which can be beneficial for the country in the future.
Moreover, it is crucial that this divergence of views and the context of regional and global integration be turned into an asset for the country. To do this, a proper social system should be installed by the Cambodian government which should include a clear educational policy, affordable and adequate access to information, and support for small and medium-sized enterprise. The youth of Cambodia is dynamic, enthusiastic and keen to play a meaningful role in society and develop their country—and it is essential that they are provided with the right tools to do so and are well prepared for whatever future opportunities arrive.