Labour challenge

Fiji and other Pacifi c Island Countries are facing signifi cant challenges in the labour market which mainly involves the youths, according to academic Prof Satish Chand from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA

FIJI and other Pacific Island Countries are facing significant challenges in the labour market which mainly involves the youths.

On one side of the coin, the region has very high youth unemployment rate while on the flipside there is a huge shortage of skilled people.

This was revealed by Prof Satish Chand from the University of New South Wales’s Business School in Canberra, Australia.

“If you are looking at plumbers, carpenters, engineers, we don’t have enough of them. Of late, we have been short of primary school teachers where we are now using graduates to go out and teach in primary schools.

“On one hand we have all this surplus of youths who are not employable and on the other we have these shortages of skills.

“So the challenge for all of the Pacific countries, Fiji included, is in transforming the resource we have in terms of a large and growing young population into skills that can be employed, not necessarily just in the region but more broadly outside.”

Dr Chand believes the capacity to transform the resources into employable skills is where the region was failing. He added there would always be a shift in demand over time in terms of the skills required.

“Let’s suppose there is a big cyclone or we need to build a big hotel in Majuro, you will always have this surge in demand for specific skills, let’s say carpenters or construction workers or tilers.

“Fiji and Papua New Guinea excluded because these are large economies and for most of the small economies you will always have this need to import workers on a temporary basis to fulfil this transit demand.”

During the 2019 Pacific Update Conference held from July 3-5, he pointed out the need for a fluid labour market for the region as a whole where surplus in one area could meet shortfalls in other areas.

“If we can produce this stock of skilled workers who can move around the region then we’ve got a very good chance of employing these people but also meeting surges in demand.”

He said both Australia and New Zealand had a massive role to play for two reasons.

“One, they are large economies, two, they are rich economies and that’s where the wages are the highest.

“So if our people can go to Australia and New Zealand and earn good income, then it’s good for the individuals, it’s good for the sending countries because they bring back savings and they build their houses and they are able to afford education for their children,” he said.

It was also good for Australia and New Zealand as, according to Dr Chand, they had a labour shortage.

“They are not doing us a favour when people go and work on farms in Australia and New Zealand, what they are being paid is not charity, they are earning that income which is a great thing.

“So it’s good for the two countries as well as the region and it is also good because it builds this people-to-people links.”

He said more than 400, 000 Australians visit Fiji as tourists every year which was a significant number.

“It’s not that they are doing Fiji a charity or Fiji is doing them a charity, there are economic benefits being exchanged.

“Much like our workers there who go and earn an income, the Australians come to Fiji because they love the safe and secure environment that Fiji offers them.”

According to him, there has been a generation of visitors and Fiji has to retain its safe, secure family friendly environment.

“That’s something we have that much of the world doesn’t have but at the same time, Fiji is not the cheapest destinations for tourists.”

He said staying at a hotel in Suva was just as expensive as staying at a very good five-star hotel in Asia.

In some instances, it was probably more expensive and Fiji had to remain competitive on that front, he added.

“Airfares to Fiji is not that cheap again, yes, we have a good source of tourists out of Australia and New Zealand but that does
not mean we can sit and be relaxed about it, we have to remain competitive.”

He added in regard to brain drain and brain gain, the challenge was not so much on losing people but more on being unable
to transform many youth into skilled workers.

“It’s a challenge for our tertiary institutions such as FNU, USP, UOF and TPAF and all of these organisations to work together
in ensuring that the youth we have now are transformed into skilled workers.”

He added when an employer brought in an expatriate into Fiji, they were paying the expatriate a lot more than what they would
pay a local.

“You have to ask as to why and the reasons are fairly straightforward, they don’t have the skills locally and therefore, they are prepared to pay these people from abroad a lot more to bring them on board.

“The challenge for us is to be able to grow the skills locally such that we don’t need that expatriates forever.”

This also meant ensuring the quality of skills imparted on our trainees was equivalent to international standards, he said.

“For that, we need expatriates and more importantly, we need institutions out of Australia and New Zealand who accredit our
trained people as having skills equivalent to what they would need, as an example, if you were an electrician and electricity is
the same whether that be in Australia, New Zealand or Fiji.

“If you are plumber, water flows the same; if you are a motor mechanic, it is exactly the same issue.

“If the skills provided in Fiji are accredited as being equivalent to that in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea and so on, then
our trainees or our qualified people will have a global market to draw on,” he said.

He added that if Fiji had good quality training or technical institutions, they could draw a lot of people who would want
to come and work here.

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