The Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC, previously known as the Australia Pacific Technical College) was established in 2007 to foster skills creation and labor mobility across the Pacific. Announced in 2005 at the 36th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, five training schools on different Pacific Island nations have since taught almost 17,000 students.
The APTC’s original focus was to train Pacific Islanders for employment in high-demand sectors both at home and abroad. Its two major goals since its inception have been to “build up human capital on the islands, and to provide skilled workers for shortage occupations in Australia.” Migration from Pacific Island nations has traditionally been seasonal and lower-skill, a trend the APTC aims to diversify. The training institutes provide Australian-recognized credentials across a range of qualifications (certificates, diplomas) and industry sectors (automotive, manufacturing, construction, electrical, tourism and hospitality, and healthcare).
Though labor mobility has always been a part of the APTC model, only 2.9 percent of graduates had migrated overseas by 2014 (1.2 percent to Australia). Beginning in 2018 – following CGD recommendations – the APTC’s third stage has doubled down on connecting graduates to jobs in both Australia and New Zealand including establishing a labor mobility track.
Funders and Participating Organizations
The APTC is the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)’s major investment in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in the Pacific. The Coalition is funded by the DFAT and implemented by TAFE Queensland, an Australian TVET provider. Training course fees are subsidized by DFAT, and scholarships are also available. More recently industry in the Pacific has also contributed to course fees for its employees.
Five colleges (in Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands) enroll students from all fourteen developing island economies in the Pacific (Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Niue, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands).
The renewed focus on labor mobility in APTC Phase 3 has required a close partnership with the Pacific Labor Facility (PLF), a sister DFAT-funded program that supports Pacific Island workers to access labor mobility opportunities in Australia. The Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), implemented by the PLF, has an end-to-end focus on circular labor mobility: supply (focused on the Pacific; working with governments to recruit workers and the APTC to align with training with demand), demand (working with Australian employers to bring in and approve Pacific workers), and welfare (supporting workers while they’re in Australia and their reintegration on return). The success of the APTC in supplying Pacific Islanders for the PLS depends on its close working relationship with the PLF.
Progress To Date
Of the almost 17,000 students who have enrolled in the APTC since its inception, 83 percent were successfully employed. Both students and employers are highly satisfied with the program. The training provided by the Coalition has also expanded into additional sectors (from its original focus on trades, chefs, and hospitality workers). This includes some courses that are specifically aimed at the ‘labor mobility’ track (such as eldercare).
The APTC has been less successful at facilitating international labor migration for their graduates. Up to 2016 only 276 of 10,087 graduates had moved to work in Australia. This was largely due to a lack of alignment with Australia visa programs, the costs and requirements of migrating, and concerns of “brain drain” from local employers in the Pacific.
The APTC’s third phase addresses these concerns head-on. Beginning in 2020, every student now chooses whether to pursue the domestic or the labor mobility track. This ensures a skilled workforce for both domestic and overseas employers and may also help better align the training provided with labor market needs in each location. Students on the domestic track will still receive Australian-recognized credentials in response to employer preferences. The labor mobility (‘away’) track will consist of APTC students “who intend to take steps to migrate in the next five years” and who will receive additional training in preparation for work abroad.
The Coalition’s renewed focus on labor mobility builds upon the introduction of the new Pacific Labor Scheme, which “opens up new opportunities to support [both] APTC graduates and others seeking to work overseas” through its focus on longer-term, semi-skilled movement. The Pacific Labor Facility will take charge of “most of the administration, which will cut out the barriers that applying as an individual typically brings.” This includes putting together a portfolio of “work-ready” potential Pacific Islander workers to share with prospective Australian employers, and aligning these pools to ensure workers aren’t taken out of essential jobs in the Pacific.
|COVID-19 Impacts and Responses
COVID-19 has posed major challenges to the implementation of enhanced labor mobility for Pacific Island nations. Following six months of border closures, the Australian government restarted the ability to bring Pacific workers into Australia.
Though labor migration from the Pacific has restarted (with more than 7,000 new workers entering Australia), most employment has been for low-skill jobs in industries such as horticulture and meat processing where industry is willing to pay for flights, hotel quarantine, etc. DFAT and the PLF are currently working to encourage access to other sectors that the APTC trains in, such as personal care roles in aged care and tourism and hospitality, and to provide skills training for workers. already in Australia (either new skills or upskilling).
Role of the Center for Global Development (CGD)
CGD’s 2014 evaluation of the APTC advocated for the inclusion of an ‘away track’ in response to the low numbers of graduates working internationally. An internal DFAT evaluation of the second APTC stage built on these recommendations, which eventually became a major part of the third stage re-design. CGD’s collaboration with Stephen Howes, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and the former Chief Economist at AusAid (DFAT’s precursor) was an important element of what current APTC leaders see as “quite a strategic partnership” between CGD and ANU.
A few specific elements of the evaluation were explicitly addressed:
- Workers need Australian recognition of work experience to qualify for visas, apart from the skills certificate. The establishment of the Pacific Labor Scheme represents a major step forward on this front as it’s outside the remit of the APTC proper.
- How to better align trainings with shortage occupations – syncing up the local demands with Australian employer needs. Forthcoming CGD research shows that Australian citizens would likely benefit from the increased recruitment of Pacific workers with less than tertiary education.
Major Takeaways and Lessons Learned
Skills development isn’t enough for migration outcomes
The success of the labor mobility track has really been tied to the establishment of the PLS and the partnership with the PLF. The success of the APTC away track depends on the success of its close partnership with the PLF.
Coordination across origin and destination countries is essential
Regular meetings among APTC in-country teams, PLF “engagement managers” in each country, and national government “labor sending units” to coordinate work-ready pools and stay on the same page about skills qualification and demand.
Aligning training and skills qualifications to labor market needs is difficult
One major challenge has been to balance responding to immediate labor market demand and longer-term planning initiatives.
It has also been difficult to balance in-country local training needs with those abroad. The introduction of separate home and labor mobility tracks should help to address this issue, as both tracks are specifically designed to address needs in the respective labor market.
Lack of sufficiently granular data
Some required skills can be quite specific, which doesn’t tend to be captured in the available data. It can therefore be difficult to understand the specifics of what employers want, and to incorporate these needs into future training programs.
When the labor mobility track first began, “people assumed that if they’re on the labor mobility track, they will get a job in Australia at the end of it.” This is not necessarily the case as it depends on a successful match with an Australian employer, so it was important to clarify expectations from the beginning.
Phase three includes an increased emphasis on co-investment, or seeking contributions to the cost of training from those who benefit (individuals, employers, and governments). This would be a more sustainable long-term approach as the program is still highly reliant on Australian aid funds.
- A recent Australian government royal commission recommended a mandatory qualification for eldercare workers – which is equivalent to the qualifications offered by the APTC! Given Australia’s shortage of 30 to 50 thousand workers in this area, this could be a very promising area for Pacific labor mobility to expand.
- Working on upskilling Pacific workers currently in Australia. Meat processing employers “value these workers and would love to develop their skills and retain them as workers.”
- More Australian employer outreach through implementing partner TAFE Queensland, which has a large network and could help to expand impact.
- Effort to make the APTC-PLF relationship more strategic, with a longer-term vision aligned to the PLS Roadmap for Sustainable Growth. APTC will appoint someone to focus on mobility to Australia specifically, and PLF will appoint a counterpart.
This case study was written by an independent, external, expert. Quotes are drawn from interviews in June 2021 with the expert.