During November 2020, Tonga Skills staff in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Training (MET) and the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development (MTED) conducted consultations with industry representatives in the four island districts of Tonga to hear their views on skills gaps in their sectors. As the program is now in its final year of operations, this was a timely opportunity to reflect on the skills demands that were reported in consultations held in 2017 and 2018 to understand how Tonga Skills may have helped to address these.

The engagements aimed to assess the quality and quantity of available skilled workers and the inclusion of women, people with a disability and those living in remote areas in skills training and employment more broadly that has occurred because of training facilitated by Tonga Skills. It also sought to gauge future skills needs based on more recent changes in the economy, environment, and emerging local projects.

The leader of the group from Tonga Skills was Sisilia Tu’ifua Takapautolo, Skills Supply Coordinator. She was accompanied from MET by Kalo Moeaki, Principal Finance Officer/Acting Deputy Director-TVET Unit, and from MTED by Sione Faleafā, Senior Officer who were able to answer queries from participants related to both Ministries’ key role in skills development. Their participation in the consultation meetings also reflected the intention for future ownership of this annual private sector consultation process by the two Ministries.

Feedback from the 99 participants across the consultations showed that representatives generally felt positively about the impact of the activities conducted and facilitated to date by Tonga Skills in the Tongatapu, Vava’u, ‘Eua and Ha’apai island groups in tourism, agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, and construction sectors. A number of key points summarized from the full analysis of data and information received includes that:

  • An increase in the quality of skills observed in people working within all four key sectors across all four target island groups was identified through the consultations. Vava’u’s manufacturing sector reported one of the largest increases in quality skills, with significant improvement in pearl handicraft design and finishing skills. Vava’u’s agriculture sector also reported very positive change in the quality of skills demonstrated by farmers in specific areas such as vanilla growing, pollination and harvesting. These skills increases were supported by Tonga Skills-funded training with follow-up support to farmers being provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests. This delivery model of engaging government ministry staff to deliver training combined with their follow-up support services is identified as a better practice as it recognises and utilises government expertise and supports their role as extension agents.
  • Increased numbers of people working within the key sectors were also noted in most instances. It was reported that more tourism businesses have started operating in ‘Eua which creates more jobs and employment opportunities. Increased demand for handicraft products has been a driver for more people to work in Vava’u’s manufacturing sector. Vava’u stakeholders also reported an increase in the number of people farming vanilla and pearls. Growth was also seen in the construction sector as evidenced by a private plumbing company in Tongatapu, which has expanded the number of staff from two to seventeen over the past five years. The construction sector in Vava’u acknowledged the impact of outward migration where skills workers move to Tongatapu or overseas in search of better wages and more opportunities. This results in a decrease in the number of available workers in the sector which raises the important point that skills demand is fluid and changing and that continual monitoring is needed to identify skills demand and that the skills system needs to be dynamic in its response to the changing nature of skills demand.
  • Improvements in inclusion were reported across the tourism, manufacturing, and construction sectors. There was evidence of women working more in roles typically dominated by men. For example, four out of seven female employees at a plumbing company in Tongatapu deliver plumbing services to clients. It was acknowledged that women have the strength required to undertake this physical practical work which represents a shift in past attitudes and beliefs about the abilities of women in this area. It was also reported that there were more women in Ha’apai working in the electrical and plumbing trades. There were more people with disabilities reported to be working in Vava’u’s manufacturing sector and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forests in Ha’apai reported greater acceptance of people with disability in their workplace. Despite examples of positive findings, overall, the numbers of persons who identify as having a disability were low.

Tonga Skills is an initiative funded by the Australian Government which works closely with the Ministry of Education and Training and the Tonga National Qualification Accreditation Board to enhance sustainable economic growth through inclusive skills training.

Some of the participants on Ha’apai private sector consultation.

Tonga Skills’ staff, MET representative and participants on Tongatapu consultation.