Focus On Cambodia

Training is in its infancy in Cambodia, and developing training programs there requires vast resources.

The exotic Southeast Asian land of Cambodia has a varied topography and a wonderful cuisine that delights foodies of all nations. The high energy of the capital city, Phnom Penh, beckons.

Cambodia has a population of approximately 16.2 million. It is a Buddhist country with a young population—the vast majority of its people are in their 20s.

Cambodia has a low-tech economy with a focus on agricultural products and tourism. The United States is its largest export partner. Currently, the Cambodian business model is to export agricultural products and textiles, and to import finished goods such as machinery and motor vehicles. This has proven to be an unsustainable model. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Currently, the per capita income levels are just a few thousand dollars per citizen. It has a low literacy rate, as well as low participation in and graduation from its schools. Life expectancy is low, and its health-care system is largely ineffective. Living conditions are poor. Families are forced to keep their children at home and working to help maintain their lifestyles.

The only way for the Cambodian government to turn the economy around and improve its citizens’ lifestyle would be by having a population capable of manufacturing and exporting higher-value finished products, and reducing its dependence on agriculture and tourism. The labor force would need to be trained to develop and produce these goods. These better jobs would create higher income work for its population. Over time, a domestic market would be created for goods and services for its population. Unfortunately, the Cambodian government currently does not have a mandate to implement this more modern economic system. The first change needed would be to improve the country’s educational system.


Training is in its infancy in Cambodia, and developing training programs there requires vast resources. Almost all training materials need to be imported, which can raise the cost. The capital city of Phnom Penh is the most likely location for training.

Most training programs in this country are short and focused. Two-day programs are the norm. The most requested topics are supervision and technical training.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • The Cambodian culture is formal, and the trainer is expected to lead. Do not single a student out for praise or constructive feedback. Always include the group.
  • Age, seniority, and job title are greatly respected. Do not call a trainee by his or her first name unless asked. Be aware of the “small talk” you use when interacting with your trainees. Do not talk about religion, politics, or family life if you want to connect with your trainees.
  • Silence is valued in this culture. Avoid filling the quiet in the room with words as your trainees may like to think about your questions before they respond. They may be quiet if they disagree with your point of view. It often is felt that challenging the trainer is disrespectful and harmful to the training environment.
  • Small group discussions should be minimized, if not eliminated. Icebreakers and games typically are met with confusion.
  • English typically is not spoken in Cambodia. You will need to translate your materials into Cambodian, and thoroughly train the trainer on your expectations and desired outcomes. Locating an appropriate trainer with knowledge of Western business culture and a bilingual skill set could be challenging. Extensive use of visuals can greatly increase comprehension and retention of your material.

Dr. Neil Orkin is president of Global Training Systems. His organization prepares corporate professionals for global business success. For more information, visit