Building sustainable livelihoods for marginalised women and youth through Hagar Cambodia’s Career Pathways programme

Posted By: • September 23rd, 2015

Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Name: Tatjana Klein  and Tep Chanbora
Email: tatjana.klein(at)

Date of profile: October 2011

Model: Career Pathways

Aim: To provide an integrated economic empowerment programme that contributes to sustainable economic independence for marginalised women and youth.

Background and context:

Hagar Cambodia has been working with vulnerable women in the country since 1994. In order to help support the financial independence of women living in Hagar’s shelters, the organisation created jobs through the development of social enterprises including a clothes factory, catering company and soya milk production factory. Despite the success of these enterprises, not all the women wanted to work in these industries and the wages were relatively low. At the same time, the socio-economic climate in Cambodia was changing, instead of creating jobs Hagar could now begin to partner with businesses that needed trained staff.

From 2003-2007 Hagar embarked on a new scheme that focused on vocational training. The organisation opened a vocational training centre and began providing training to their clients in hairdressing, cooking and sewing.

Feedback from employers suggested that Hagar’s clients had the skills of the trade, but were lacking in ‘soft skills’ i.e. they were not punctual, confident or able to communicate well.

Hagar realised that there was a need to focus on clients ’employability skills’. This meant building clients skills in communication, problem solving, decision-making, planning, team work and interpersonal skills.

In 2007, building on this learning, a new model, Career Pathways began. This programme consists of ‘job readiness’ preparation, training in specific trades and long-term support to help individuals find and succeed in their employment. 80 new trainees begin the programme every year in four different intakes of 20.

Hagar’s clients come from various difficult situations, many suffering abuse, violence, and in some cases trafficking and exploitation. Other NGOs are also able to refer their clients onto the Career Pathways programme, and in most cases the referring NGO will be asked to continue supporting the client through case management and any additional costs, such as health costs, whilst the client moves through the programme.

Although Hagar’s priority has been to support women, there are an increasing number of boys entering Hagar’s Children’s Programme. As these boys reach the age of 17, they become eligible to enter Career Pathways. Similarly, other NGOs have started referring a larger number of male youth to the programme, especially those who have been victims of abuse, violence, trafficking and/ or neglect.

What the model does:

The Career Pathways model continues to be refined based on learning and evaluation of the programme. The current model includes the following components:

Work readiness training: A six week programme that works on the clients ‘soft skills’ and offers weekly exposure visits to local businesses so that clients can gain an understanding of different work environments and broaden their horizons. Hagar also partners with a local organisation Chrysalis, which works with the clients on personal development through creative arts to build confidence and self worth.

Career guidance and counseling: As not all clients know what they want to do in the future, career guidance and counseling provides them with information about different industries.

‘On the job’ apprenticeship vocational training: This apprenticeship stage lasts between 3-12 months. Clients are trained in a career they are interested in such as hospitality, dressmaking or office work. The clients work while training and receive a stipend from Hagar to cover lunch and transport; some employers will cover or contribute to these costs.

Education for empowerment: Hagar provides a suite of foundation education courses to clients that aim to support longer term resilience over a two-year period. Literacy, numeracy, financial literacy, life skills (including information on gender, parenting and human rights) equip clients with the skills and knowledge they need to make positive life choices. While clients are completing their apprenticeship, Hagar negotiates with the employer to give the apprentice two afternoons a week off so they can continue with their education. Hagar has a partnership with the Ministry of Education and clients receive an accredited, nationally recognised certificate on completion of their education.

Employment placement or business start-up support: In some cases, Hagar’s more mature clients may have run their own businesses in the past or may have a great deal of experience in the work place. If clients wish to start their own businesses, Hagar will support these plans by offering training in micro-enterprise development and help clients access credit. If clients have not had experience, but still wish to start their own business, they will be encouraged to seek employment first to learn more about the trade and then if they still wish to start their own business in the future Hagar will provide support.

‘Follow up’ case management: The three-person Career Services Team follow up regularly with clients. Punctuality and regular attendance are often problems for Hagar’s clients and common reasons for lateness and absence include unreliable transport, family problems, illness, unreliable childcare and misunderstandings related to arrival times. The Career Services Team aims to help and resolve these issues through ongoing counselling, advice and practical support. Hagar Shelter residents have ongoing access to Hagar childcare services and Hagar also purchases bicycles for some clients to help them get to work. The team also maintain ongoing discussions with the employer to advocate on behalf of the client in cases where irregular attendance is due to post-traumatic conditions, ongoing family problems or other issues related to their prior experiences. Hagar’s Counselling Service is there throughout the programme for clients in need.


In 2010, Career Pathways commenced 4 x Work Readiness groups with a total of 69 clients. Only two (3% of students) out of 69 did not complete the Work Readiness phase due to return to the family and illness

Between 2007 – 2010 the completion rate of the vocational training phase has been 88%

Since 2007, 202 people have commenced Career Pathways. 65% of ‘eligible’; clients were in secure employment. In 2010, 26 gained employment and 21 were still employed at the end of December 2010

This apprenticeship model gives clients practical experience and around 40% of Hagar’s clients will stay on with the employer once the apprenticeship officially ends

Since Sept 2007, 56 clients have been trained in small business development. 11 clients have established their own business and 75% of these have successful businesses at the end of December 2010

Average starting salary earned per month for clients who gained employment in 2010 was US$75 or $900 per annum.  This is against the annual average per capita income of $597 in Cambodia where close to 40% of the entire population live below the poverty line ($1.25/day)

In recent years, the Career Pathways programme has developed partnerships with a range of other NGOs who refer partners onto their specialist programme

A number of employers in Phnom Penh now work with Career Pathways to train and place clients including: Hagar Catering and Facilities Management, The Boddhi Tree Hotel chain, La Residence, The Blue Pumpkin, Stop Start (Parkway Beauty Salon), So! Nutritious, Gech Dressmaking Shop, Apsara Angkor Beauty Salon, and Svakum Tailoring shop

Non-discrimination and individual response:

Hagar’s Mission includes a specific reference to our individualised approach, “We remain focused on the individual”. The individualised career counselling and employment placement according to individual career goals is consistent with Hagar’s Mission. Clients are actively encouraged to pursue their individual career dreams aligned to their special skills, interests, talents and future aspirations.

The Career Pathways programme encourages participation from diverse groups and does not discriminate on the basis of gender (our focus is on women and young men (under 25 but we do accept older males in some cases); ethnicity; country of origin; language or age. Our entry criteria align to our Misson “We welcome the toughest of human conditions” and potential clients are assessed according to this. In response to an evidence-based need, Career Pathways has recently expanded our services to support refugees and labour migrant retournees. These new clients are often males and over 25 years of age.


Clients are actively consulted at all stages of the process. The initial intake assessment forms the basis of an individual career plan which the client develops and retains control of. Clients are provided with opportunities to provide regular feedback via confidential training feedback forms and two year follow up forms. Annual alumni meetings encourage reflection and feedback.


Hagar has a Client Protection Policy and all staff have been trained in client protection. Their privacy and anonymity are assured through our Protection Policy which prevents disclosure of names, stories and photos without fully informed consent and with strict guidelines regarding usage of client information.

Sustainability and replication:

Sustainability is achieved through the clients self reliance, independence and economic empowerment that comes with the Career Pathways programme. Training in job search skills and microenterprise ensures clients are able to find and secure employment or other forms of income in the long-term.

Career Pathways management team is currently investigating viable, and alternative ways to become sustainable and reduce their reliance on external funding. Viable options include a fee for service charge for external agencies who refer their clients on, use of peer educators for training, and strengthening employers training skills so they could take over some of the training that is specific to the competencies needed for that career.

Hagar Cambodia are currently exploring future opportunities which may include the replication of the programme in Siem Reap. Hagar are also considering a replication of the model with different client groups including people with disabilities and refugees.


The current incarnation of Careers Pathway programme is based on an annual internal reflection process, formal feedback from graduates, formal and informal feedback from employers, intake assessments and other research reports including the 2010 external evaluation of the Career Pathways programme. Some of the key learning over the years is noted below:

Initially, clients are generally not interested in being in the classroom, they want to earn money. Therefore, expecting clients to go back to school at the beginning of the programme rarely works as there is little motivation. However, when they are in full-time employment they are too busy to study. Hagar therefore offers access to education over a two year period and negotiates time out of on-the-job training so clients can attend education whilst working

Those that have been trafficked in some cases may struggle more than others in the classroom and exhibit low levels of concentration and little motivation

Formal accreditation for education is important. If Hagar clients move to another area of the country a certificate by Hagar will mean very little. Since 2011 Hagar’s students are now awarded a Ministry of Education issued Grade 4 Certificate.

Like education, vocational training also detracts and slows down clients’ access to income; therefore it is important that clients are supported with a stipend and assisted with practical difficulties such as managing childcare and organising transport.

Local market analysis is essential. In Cambodia growth industries include hospitality, tourism, catering and cleaning. Clients should be made aware and offered training in these areas.

Exposure visits help clients understand what jobs entail, however it is important that students do not simply see the ‘glamour’ but also the reality of different workplaces.

The apprentice model is important: clients get a chance to make mistakes and learn from them before they get a real job.

Those from rural areas sometimes find work placements in the city fast paced and challenging and need time to get used to the working environment.

Some clients may quit good jobs that they have secured in the city to go home and move back to their parents and family. In some cases this will limit their prospects as in many rural areas there may be few well-paying opportunities. The city can make some clients feel isolated so it is important to also work on creating social peer groups to help with integration. Peer support helps clients through the programme and some clients will go onto flat share and many become friends and support for one another.

Training needs to be flexible: if a client wants to become a housekeeper they do not need to be an apprentice for six months. Training needs to be tailored to the job.

Many of Hagar’s female clients want to become hairdressers despite hairdressing being one of the lowest paid industries. Through counseling, Hagar may try and explain this to clients however some women will still spend a year training to become a hairdresser and then find a cleaning job where they can earn more money and therefore the time and training is wasted.

The evaluation highlighted that young people are particularly vulnerable to dropping out of the programme.

Staff development and training is crucial.


Hagar sometimes struggles to fill all the places on the programme. Hagar is looking at doing more of their own marketing directly to clients in other agencies in order to attract more clients.

There have been some concerns over the quality of the training being provided through the workplace. This is currently being reviewed and a more structured and competency-based vocational training framework will be introduced to ensure increased accountability amongst all the trainers.

The Career Pathways programme focuses on employment in the urban cities, especially Phnom Penh. One of the main reasons for clients not gaining employment is that they leave Phnom Penh to be re-integrated prior to completing the training course. There is a need for an increased focus and expertise in rural employment and this is an area where more work is needed

Younger clients, those under 18, often want to be trained up rather than attend school. There is confusion among some employers over the labour laws in the country, with some employers reluctant to take under 18s. Younger clients could still benefit from the apprenticeship model, a model that is popular in many developed countries for those between16-18.

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