I see it every time I come back to Honiara, Solomon Island’s bustling capital, soon after I arrive. Young people on the streets, wandering around in groups or by themselves with nothing to do. It’s the same thing my local friends and colleagues mention. Solomon Islanders also ask, “What kind of future lies ahead for our kids?”
Solomon Islands face new economic challenges and a rapidly expanding, youthful population. Seven out of 10 Solomon Islanders are under the age of 29.
While large numbers of young people are unemployed and not in school or in training, employers report difficulties filling available jobs with local candidates, with many firms importing experienced foreign workers instead. Education and training are important priorities shared by Solomon Islanders, and reflected in significant government and donor investment. However, education and training does not necessarily lead to employment for many, and there is a skills mismatch between training supplied and the skills in demand from employers at home and overseas.
Even considering the jobs that are available, the size of the private sector is limited, and constraints to government revenue will limit further public sector growth. As such there are not enough formal private and public sector jobs for the roughly 8,000-10,000 new entrants to the labor force each year in Solomon Islands.
An employer tells me, “Education is a priority given the parental view that it will give you a job. Previously in Solomon Islands, everyone who went to school got a job.”
Now, only one in five workers in the labor force gain a formal job with higher pay than earning a living from subsistence agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods. The transition to livelihood opportunities is vitally important to the majority of Solomon Islanders, as it earns more income than fishing and farming. Education and training in Solomon Islands needs to support people in that transition.
In 2014, there are important changes underway in Solomon Islands’ training and employment system, including creating new institutions. One is a proposed Tertiary Education Commission and a Solomon Islands Qualifications Framework (SIQF) that will provide a common set of skills recognized by employers. Putting the National Human Resource Development and Training Plan into action will be very important.
At this important time, working with three Solomon Islands Government Ministries and with support from the Australian Government, the World Bank piloted the use of a diagnostic tool called SABER (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) to identify the strengths and priorities of Solomon Islands’ Workforce Development System. The SABER tool involved employers, public and private training providers and civil society.
A key benefit of the process is that it brings international knowledge of what works to support people in the school-to-work transition, and discusses it with Solomon Islanders who currently make up the system for workforce development. They need to be involved in the dialogue and system-building if employment outcomes are to improve locally.
“Awareness is the major change,” says Solomon Pita, Director of the School of Technical and Marine studies at the Solomon Islands National University. “The Workforce Development Assessment informed our national consultation of what we missed and what we need to do, from looking at key policies and substance.”
The participants learned something they didn’t know about how workforce development happens in Solomon Islands – including past practices, current priorities, and potential for the future.
Eight practical recommendations came out of the assessment:
- Solomon Islands’ leaders need to define the skills required for participatory economic development.
- Policy makers need to sustain coordination and regularly participate in agreed meetings.
- Employers need to participate to guide education and training policy and standards.
- Policy-makers should develop strategies and programs to support skills development for livelihoods.
- Build stronger pathways to connect pre-employment education and training system, including recognition of prior learning in the SIQF.
- Include strong quality standards in the SIQF to ensure Solomon Islands qualifications are valued by trainees and by employers.
- Funding of tertiary education should be based on incentives and efficiency.
- Invest in capacity to measure education and training performance and jobs demand.
If you have any thoughts or experience on developing the youth workforce, please share it with us in the comments below.