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PRESS RELEASE November 21, 2018

New pathways, new opportunities: skills and employment project kicks off in Tonga

Nuku’alofa, November 21, 2018 – A new project to improve employment opportunities for Tongans has kicked off in the Tongan capital, Nukua’lofa that aims to help 10,500 Tongans reach their full potential by 2023.

The Skills and Employment for Tongans (SET) Project will support the Tongan government to establish a cash transfer program to address the financial constraints many households face in accessing and keeping children in secondary school.

The SET project aims to directly address Tonga’s high secondary school drop-out rates – which have reached around 20% of students annually – as well as ensuring those that have dropped out of secondary school have alternative vocational and learning pathways.

The project will also ensure technical and vocational education and training courses are improved to help students build skills to make them more employable in Tonga, as well as through Australian or New Zealand employment programs, and comes on the back of last week’s announcement by the Australian Government that the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme is being expanded to include all Pacific Island countries, with the 2,000-place limit also being lifted. Remittances from programs such as these equate to the equivalent of 34.2% of Tonga’s Gross Domestic Product.

“The SET project addresses some of the most significant barriers to students in participating in, and successfully completing, secondary school,” said Tonga’s Minister for Internal Affairs, Losaline Ma'asi MP. “It provides help to overcome the barriers to labour migration by providing information and financial support to poorer Tongans and will also improve the quality of courses in areas that are most likely to lead to successful labour migration to Australia and New Zealand.”

The World Bank’s Natalia Latu said the SET project represents an example of the significantly strengthened partnership between the Tongan government and the World Bank, and was built on similarly successful projects in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

“SET is as much about creating formal employment pathways as it is about helping young Tongans achieve their full potential,” said Ms Latu. “This program will help young people and families look ahead with a new-found optimism, and will deliver genuine economic benefit to Tonga.”

The Australian High Commissioner to Tonga, HE Andrew Ford, said Australia was also excited about the new program.

“Its focus on skills and labour mobility fits with Australia’s investment through the Australia Pacific Training Coalition, Tonga Skills and the Pacific Labour Facility,” Mr Ford said. “Through these investments, and access to labour mobility pathways such as the Pacific Labour Scheme, Australia is committed to helping Tongan workers develop skills to connect with labour markets in Tonga, in Australia, and across the region.”

Skills and Employment for Tongans will be funded through a US$18.5 million grant from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the most in-need countries. A US$2.4 million grant from the Australia-Pacific Islands Partnership Trust Fund will also support the project.


Tom Perry
+61 404 460 330