10 Ways to Accelerate Job Creation in the Pacific

USP students in a computer lab.
USP students in a computer lab.

By Andrew Parker

New development opportunities offer Pacific island countries the chance to leverage their unique potential to help the private sector create enough decent, sustainable jobs.

Pacific island countries are looking for new ways to encourage private sector-led employment opportunities, but face multiple challenges: the relatively small size of their economies, distance from markets, and high costs of doing business. But new development opportunities offer these countries the chance to leverage their unique potential to promote job creation. Here are 10 things ADB, development partners and governments can do to create more sustainable and decent jobs in the region.

1. Leverage financing for employment impact. Big infrastructure projects typically require substantial labor input, but contractors tend to limit their local hiring to short-term unskilled labor, and import much of their skilled and semi-skilled labor needs. While the local pool of skilled labor is often limited, contractors should hire and train more workers in construction. For instance, a recent report on Papua New Guinea presents options to include skills development in project design and public procurement policies.

2. Include job creation as a more explicit goal, and evaluate rigorously. Making job creation a specific item in design and monitoring frameworks at the outcome level for certain types of projects would help meet the old adage about what gets measured gets done. It would also encourage more consideration of the results chain that links investments to job creation – a presumption often stated in project documents but not generally substantiated through rigorous evaluation.

3. Improve the performance of labor markets. Labor market assessments for the Pacific—including one recently undertaken by ADB and the ILO in Fiji—can help gain a better understanding of labor market performance, gaps, constraints, and opportunities. For instance, there’s a lot of discussion on skills mismatch as few Pacific countries have easily available information on career profiles, job prospects and potential earnings. The few employment agencies that do exist tend to cater to specific sectors. As access to high-speed internet expands across the Pacific, the availability of labor market information can be improved by developing online employment sites which use systems to match information entered by job searchers with potential employers.

4. Deepen public-private dialogue on skills needs. Pacific job seekers need the right set of skills and experience to find jobs. Many employers complain that graduates lack adequate basic skills in numeracy and literacy, and rate even lower on the ‘soft skills’ critical for today’s knowledge and service-based economy, including teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking. Formal education systems—including technical and vocational training (TVET)—are not producing graduates with the skills employers need, and the private sector is not consulted on course offerings and training curricula. More engagement with the private sector would help reduce the skills gap.

5. Identify, partner with ‘pockets of potential’. Capacity for skills development is spread out across the Pacific, and stakeholders are revisiting their operations to better respond to newly emerging economic opportunities. For example, the EU-PacTVET project at the South Pacific Community (SPC) has developed the world’s first set of formal TVET qualifications for sustainable energy, climate change, and disaster risk reduction, and plans to release them on a regional level so smaller countries can adopt them. Many Pacific countries have established their own national qualifications frameworks. Rather than financing project-based and usually ad hoc training activities, development partners and governments can support local service providers by enabling learners to acquire formally accredited qualifications valued by employers – especially for occupations in high demand.

6. Significantly expand access to post-secondary training. The delivery of courses through online and blended modalities is revolutionizing the world of learning. Job seekers can acquire new skills on their own by tapping into the vast array of online resources, including nano-degrees and massive open online courses (MOOCs). The University of the South Pacific (USP) aims to deliver many of its courses through blended learning, and has piloted a MOOC on climate change in collaboration with UNESCO. As internet access improves, learners of all ages will be able to access the full range of global online learning opportunities.

7. Connect entrepreneurs, producers to global markets. It takes perseverance, creativity and imagination to overcome the multiple challenges of the distance from markets and the high cost of doing business in the Pacific. But, as a joint ADB-Australian Aid-WTO report on trade has shown, it is possible to be a successful niche entrepreneur. Better connection to global markets, improved infrastructure, increased access to trade finance, and simplified regulations make it easier for business to start up, expand, and employ more people.

8. Partner with non-traditional players. Both young people and diaspora communities can make economically and socially meaningful contributions to Pacific societies, by participating in and supporting local organizations that focus on helping the most vulnerable. Taken together, these groups provide the basis for developing inclusive business models appropriate to the Pacific context.

9. Boost regional cooperation and integration. Regional organizations such as SPC, USP, and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat all have important roles to play in promoting cross-country initiatives and convening stakeholders to share knowledge on successful job creation efforts. Mutual recognition of qualifications between Pacific countries and beyond can facilitate labor mobility. Improving region-wide labor market information systems will help job seekers in one country connect to employers in another, and common standards across countries will enable labor markets to work more efficiently.

10. Pursue fundamental reforms. Although the public sector will continue to be an important source of jobs in the Pacific, increasing fiscal pressures are pushing governments to downsize state-owned enterprises and encourage more private-sector job creation. Apart from strengthening and improving public sector capacity and efficiency, as well as investing in infrastructure and essential public service delivery, private sector development reforms are crucial to create an enabling environment to promote new, sustainable jobs.