Which skills and training opportunities do young people need to gain access to decent employment in rural areas? A new FAO study by the Centre for Rural Development (SLE), commissioned by FAO, looks at the situation in Cambodia to give an answer to this question.

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In Cambodia, an estimated 65 percent of the population is below the age of 30. The number of youth in the country is expected to increase at a rate of 7.7 percent a year over the next 5 years. This situation raises the concern that the formal economy will not be able to absorb the growing number of young people entering the workforce each year; as a result, many young people migrate.

As part of its decent (self-) employment for youth agenda, FAO commissioned the Centre for Rural Development (SLE) to undertake a case study in Cambodia to determine which skills and training opportunities young people need to gain access to decent employment in rural areas. The handbook “Preparing and Accessing Decent Work Amongst Rural Youth in Cambodia” shows what skills and training opportunities young people aged 15-17 need to subsequently gain easier access to decent employment in rural areas. The focus is on 15-17 year olds, as they transit from school to work and require special attention. Many of the difficulties faced by 15–17-year-olds, however, are relevant for all youth. A Skills And Training Needs Assessment (STNA) with youth was conducted in the three provinces of Kampong Chhnang, Battambang and Kampong Cham and developed recommendations on how to foster their access to decent employment. The study highlights a tremendous lack of decent employment opportunities along the agricultural value chain in rural Cambodia with very few enterprises engaging in high-level processing or employing skilled workers. Most existing jobs lack decent income-generating opportunity and decent working conditions and do not fulfil occupational safety standards.

According to the study, very few young people consider working in agriculture as a career aspiration; many see agriculture mainly as a backup option. They perceive agricultural work to be physically demanding, high risk and not very profitable. The cite different barriers that include low income, poor soil quality, low agricultural productivity, high cost of inputs, difficulties accessing land and lack of new techniques with climate change underpinning this negative view. The findings show that most youth entering agriculture are self-employed and work as small-scale farmers. Young farmers, therefore, need skills to run their farms as businesses and must understand how the market functions to meet market demands and increase their bargaining power.

The study found significant challenges including lack of access to quality education and training programmes. There is also limited support and information available to youth to help them make good decisions. These challenges add to other poverty and structural problems of the agricultural sector in Cambodia. Reversing this situation requires a sustainable enhancement of the education system as well as the provision of appropriate training services to ensure a successful school-to-work transition, the authors conclude.

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