From Farm to Factory: Skills Training Helps Factory Worker Advance

Phnom Penh, Cambodia—She was a village girl, from a distant place, raised by a single mother, and destined for a life confined to the rice paddies in Kampong Cham province. Khieng Srey Touch grew up with little education, sparse skills and no clear direction in life, but she knew one thing: she wanted to get beyond the farm fields that seemed to hem her in.

sreytouchSo when Srey Touch turned 18, she packed a single bag and headed to Cambodia’s urban core. Like so many of the country’s young women chasing their futures to the capital city, Phnom Penh, Srey Touch became a laborer in the garment sector—the fulcrum around which Cambodia’s economy spins and so much of the country’s rural youth see a slit of opportunity in otherwise narrow futures.

“When I started working at the factory, I didn’t know anything,” Srey Touch said. “I didn’t even know how to sew. But I just kept trying to learn new things.”

That was more than 15 years ago. Today, Srey Touch supervises a staff of 65 workers at a factory southwest of the capital. And in a cut-throat environment, where advancement is an enormous challenge, Srey Touch has accomplished what few others from her background have: as a Cambodian, she was promoted into a position traditionally held by foreigners, and as a supervisor, she has groomed a team that respects and likes her.

Srey Touch credits a series of supervisory skills trainings conducted by Better Factories Cambodia for her transformation and for giving her the skills that nudged her rung by rung up the factory’s promotion ladder. Better Factories Cambodia catalyzes improvement in the garment sector through monitoring and training initiatives, as well as worker-focused projects that empower people like Srey Touch to build better lives through opportunities that strengthen and broaden their work skills.

“I want to be the best supervisor I can be and I want the workers to have confidence in me,” Srey Touch said.

In a high pressure environment, where demand on productivity is placed at a premium and factory supervisors maintain a reputation for harshness, Srey Touch enjoys a different reputation among her team. Through BFC’s training workshops, she learned a range of skills, including how to mediate disputes, improve communication with her team, and navigate the fine line between advocating for her workers and reaching production targets.

“She’s so much better than before,” said Un Phat, 34. “Before, she scolded us without reason. We didn’t get along.”

These days, Srey Touch takes a different tact to keeping her staff on track. Rather than criticize and curse, she encourages and rewards good work. She is also more careful and patient when mediating disputes between workers, said Suon Sok An, 27.

“She doesn’t take sides,” Sok An said. “She encourages us to get along.”

Connecting with team members on a personal level has been a key to gaining her staff’s trust and respect, Srey Touch said. “I tell them, ‘We’re all from far away places. We’re here now. We have to find a way to work together.’”

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