Insights and Analysis

Hiring Patterns in Cambodia’s Garment Industry

March 29, 2017

By Menghun Kaing

Despite the fact that Cambodia’s apparel industry accounts for nearly 80 percent of the country’s export revenue and employs an estimated 700,000 people, finding workers with the right skills remains a major challenge, according to The Asia Foundation’s new survey on recruitment practices in the garment industry in Cambodia.

Cambodia garment workers

Garment workers having lunch at a factory in Phnom Penh. Despite the fact that Cambodia’s apparel industry accounts for nearly 80 percent of the country’s export revenue, finding workers with the right skills remains a major challenge. Photo/Flickr user ILO in Asia and the Pacific

Based on online and phone interviews with human resource managers from 52 garment factories in and around Phnom Penh, the survey found that, in addition to technical skills like sewing or quality control, leadership skills such as supervising and team leading were the most difficult to fill. For example, when asked what positions take the longest time to fill, 45 percent of respondents said sewing, 43 percent said supervisor, and 36 percent cited team leader.

The most commonly cited method for finding workers is selecting workers from in front of the factory, with 98 percent of respondents using this method. Taking referrals from existing workers is the second most common way recruiters find workers (81 percent).

These findings suggest that the current recruitment practices in the garment industry remain highly informal and somewhat inefficient. While the preferred recruitment methods allow factories to find workers in large quantities, the heavy dependence on free, informal methods of selection limits their ability to find more skilled workers. One contributing factor to the lack of skills may be the high turnover rate in the industry. Of the respondents who shared information about turnover at their factories, the average turnover rate was 44 percent of workers per year. This finding indicates that many workers are not spending enough time in a job to gain more advanced skills.

The survey also reveals a greater need for information sharing. When asked what would be most helpful to their recruiting work, 19 percent of HR managers cited a need for better distribution of information, including distributing job announcements among existing workers in a factory and line-managers or in the area where workers live for better outreach results. Others (13%) said that providing additional training to workers should be a priority, perhaps by establishing a training center.

Potential underage hires
The study also shows that factory HR managers are often at risk of hiring underage workers, with poverty being one of the main factors driving child labor in the industry. Responding to the question of challenges in recruiting workers, 29 percent of the respondents said that ensuring that they have correct documents—national ID, family book, and birth certificate required by factories to prove legal age—is challenging as many workers borrow documents from others or use IDs that do not show their real age to apply for a job. As one HR manager said during a follow-up phone interview, “I estimate that 5 percent of applicants are underage. When I interview them, they say livelihood issues make them want to increase their age so that they can work. I can tell that they are not 18, because most of the time when I do further questioning about the age of their siblings or schooling, it is clear [that they are not].”

This finding corresponds with concerns from NGOs and labor rights activists. In 2015, Human Rights Watch cited widespread child labor cases in the garment industry in Cambodia in its report, “Work Faster or Get Out.” All workers who reported seeing children in their factories consistently recounted how managers told children to hide or leave the factory on days when “visitors” came.

Hiring patterns
Hiring of garment workers is seasonal, depending heavily on volumes of orders from brands, and to a lesser extent, Cambodia’s major holidays and harvesting seasons, the survey results suggest. Most hiring happens in May and June, with April and September cited as the most difficult months to hire workers. April is when Khmer New Year is celebrated, while September is normally the month of Pchum Ben, a 15-day Buddhist festival, both of which are the biggest holidays in the country. Traditionally, workers take long periods of time off from work around holiday seasons and find a new job when they return.

Hiring is a relatively quick process, with 42 percent of respondents saying it takes on average between 2-3 days to hire one worker to fill one position, 15 percent saying it takes one day, and 13 percent saying it takes “less than one day.”

While these findings provide only a snapshot of hiring practices in Cambodia’s garment industry, they contribute to a growing body of research to better understand the industry, and help ensure that it offers a safe and fair work environment and viable economic opportunity for the workers who make the industry possible.

Menghun Kaing is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Cambodia. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Cambodia
Related programs: Inclusive Economic Growth


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