ADB Study: Pacific Labor Market Still Relies On Foreign Workers

ADB: labor market challenge for many Pacific Island Countries is 'skills mismatch' where skills gained in tertiary school do not fit the market

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 08, 2017) – Initial findings from a new study on labor markets in the Pacific by the International Labor Organization and the Asian Development Bank has revealed a heavy reliance on foreign workers and on a few sectors for employment opportunities.

The study was carried out in three Pacific countries: Fiji, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

Some of the initial findings were shared with delegates at a side event at the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Yokohama last week.

ILO’s employment specialist, Sameer Khatiwada said in the three countries, most employment opportunities were in the extractive industries (Papua New Guinea), fisheries (most Pacific Island Countries) and tourism (Fiji and Vanuatu).

The labor market for all three countries was young — with 60 percent of the workforce below the age of 24. Most of the people employed were in the agriculture and service industries, said Khatiwada.

He said another major finding is the lack of skilled workforce that has resulted in the influx of foreign labor force in some Pacific Island Countries.

One example is the $19 billion Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas project that recruited foreign workers because of the lack of qualified local skilled workers.

“During the construction phase, from 2009-2013, the project employed 21,000 workers, 60 percent of them or 13,00 workers were foreigners from Australia, New Zealand and Asia. These skilled workers were technicians, crane operators, welders, electricians etc., revealed PNG’s deputy secretary for economic policy, Manu Momo.

He said there is not enough jobs to cater for the young people entering the workforce annually.

“The Australia Pacific Technical College is offering training for trade skills that we hope will cater for the demand for those kinds of skilled jobs in the market. The courses provide international accreditation for our people. In 2018, we hope to have 15,000 qualified skilled graduates to join the workforce,” said Momo.

Another labor market challenge for many Pacific Island Countries now is what Asian Development Bank’s Robert Jauncey described as “skills mismatch.”

“What we find is that there are no jobs to match the skills of people coming out of tertiary schools every year. There should be greater link between graduates and the market.

“How do we provide them opportunities when there is not enough jobs, said Jauncey.

He said the real challenge for young people is not to become job seekers but also job creators.

“This is where the Pacific should utilize the digital economy. By the end of next year, most Pacific countries will be connected to broadband. This greater internet connectivity will provide enormous job creation opportunities.

“In the United States, the internet has become the savior of small towns. People in small towns and cities don’t need to migrate to the big cities like New York and San Francisco because they can find work at home,” said Jauncey.

ADB, he said is keen to invest and support infrastructure investment like broadband connectivity to improve employment opportunities for people in the Pacific.

The report, titled “Improving Labor Market Outcomes in the Pacific” will be launched in Fiji next month.

Marianas Variety
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