31 August 2019
Solomon Islands.ï¿½ï¿½ Computerisation must be linked to maximizing skills opportunities
Last week it was reported in the media that the underwater data cables connecting Australia to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea had reached Sydneyï¿½s shores.
The 4700-kilometre network is being partly funded by the Australian federal government to bring high-speed internet to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Australia committed AUD$136 million to the project in 2018.
The World Bank has forecast improved internet access and connectivity could bring in more than $US5 billion ($A7.4 billion) to the economy of the Pacific region and create almost 300,000 new jobs by 2040
It is my hope that better and faster internet connectivity in the Solomons will indeed help in creating much needed jobs.
I do have some concerns, however, because the trend to new technology that improved internet connectivity heralds might result in jobs being performing by workers doing routine manual tasks being replaced by machines.
Many middle-skill jobs could well be fully automated if they are based mainly or solely on routine tasks
Experts are already forecasting that increased computerisation will foster a polarisation of employment, with job growth concentrated in both the highest- and lowest-paid occupations, while jobs in the middle will decline.
The number of middle-skill jobs in Solomon Islands except for teachers has declined over the years since about 1999.
Some middle-skill jobs will likely expand in the future due to their link to new technology.
ï¿½Many job holders in middle skill occupations will also need to upgrade their skills to enable them to perform the work expected of them.
With the benefits to be brought by better internet connectivity and more computer usage in business and industry at home, as well as likely in colleges, schools and in the home, I believe future opportunities for skills advancement will require a change in government policy to maximize skills transfer opportunities.
Faced with a critical shortage of employment and jobs at home there are advantages to be found in offshore labour schemes, such as the one that currently operates in Australia but those seeking such opportunities must have recognized skills in key selection criterion to meet the stringent entry requirements.
It is very much hoped the Solomon Islands Government will do everything possible to use the opportunities to be presented with the advent of higher speed internet to ensure many more Solomon Islanders become computer literate, advance their post high school qualifications, their relevant work experience and match the skills requirements for overseas work opportunities.
Additionally, when the development on the scale envisaged by the DCGA does take place, the demand for local workers with higher education qualifications and who excel in abstract tasks should have preference in the labour market and they should not remain unemployed while foreign workers move in to do the development and major construction work, such as been evident in Vanuatu and in Fiji.
In fact, I would go so far to propose that the DCGA insist in having a clause in any contract work to be undertaken by a ï¿½foreign developerï¿½ to have a high percentage of professionally qualified Solomon Islanders employed in the development projects.