Sunday, March 3, 2024
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Brunei Town

Meeting unemployment issues head on

Daniel Lim

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, steps and measures have been taken to ensure the unemployment issues are managed efficiently, transparently and effectively.

The Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC) has employed innovative interventions to overcome the challenges, such as providing a job matching process coordinated by JobCentre Brunei (JCB) that fosters cooperation with education industries to ensure local universities and technical education graduates are marketable and employable.

In tackling the challenges, three objectives have been outlined: to support those in the private sector affected by the pandemic; maintain job security with means to protect locals’ well-being, especially those in the private sector; and to continue generate jobs.

Companies are encouraged to work with the MPEC in supporting local employability and employment, which include creating new and sustainable job opportunities and developing the right upskilling and reskilling programmes for locals.

As business activities have been affected by the pandemic, companies are called upon to take the opportunity to enhance skills, including upskilling or reskilling of their local workers, while the MPEC provides specific training, such as online training and hands-on training, whether in the form of current needs or a step towards human resources capacity building.

The collaboration also involves partnering with information technology (IT) companies to provide programmes such as analytic data that will assist the country towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution; provide training such as reskilling and upskilling local tour guides registered with the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism; and provide training for those interested in the food and beverage sector.

The development of local workforce in meeting industrial demand is key to the growth of the country’s economy, as it will keep the people more equipped with skills to remain relevant in both present and future development. The energy sector is the most developed industry, where there is ample practical experience and it still continues to be a strategic sector going forward, and is comprehensible as one of the key sectors to focus on to develop locals’ capabilities.

In October 2020, it was reported that since the outbreak of COVID-19, there had been over 40,000 job matching occurrences and over 6,000 interviews sessions coordinated by JCB, and that since January 2020, over 2,400 jobs had been filled by locals via JCB, while there were still over 2,000 vacancies yet to be filled.

The Manpower Industry Steering Committee (MISC), a sub-committee under the MPEC, seeks to foster collaboration between industry players, regulators and training institutions.

Towards producing an industry-ready workforce, the MPEC collaborated with agencies and placed employment and local capacity building the centre of their work plans and priorities.

With collaboration across ministries and other agencies, there are still opportunities in the midst of the challenges brought on by COVID-19. One immediate priority is the continuous creation of employment opportunities. With the current restrictions of labour mobility across economies, it is more pressing to equip locals and get them into the jobs available in
the market.

The MPEC in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, the Ministry of Development, the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Education, in their capacities as regulators – is currently identifying job positions for locals.

The construction sector offers a vast number of identified positions particularly at the professional, associate professional and technician levels, towards building a talent pipeline of skilled locals. The sector contributed BND457 million to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, and is anticipated to continue to be a key sector in the journey to develop the nation’s economy to meet Brunei Vision 2035.

Initiatives, such as the ARMECS Bridging Programme, are an added value for locals, where they are given the opportunity to work with professionals and can grow and diversify their talents. This is an example of one of the upskilling and reskilling programmes that has been rolled out, following the recent adoption of the Upskilling and Reskilling Framework designed to support those seeking new skills, and those who wish to develop other competencies.

The desired outcomes of the framework are: to increase the involvement of employers in the development of quality training and learning programmes; the implementation of programmes that are accredited and recognised not only academically, but also in terms of skills via the Brunei Darussalam National Occupational Skills Standards (BNOSS); and the creation of an ecosystem that enables a wide range of learning opportunities via the expansion of training providers to boost the supply of local talents.

The hospitality and tourism sector has also benefitted from this, where the MPEC rolled out similar upskilling and reskilling programmes with the objective of providing locals with experiential learning and industrial exposure. Stakeholders are also continuously working together, leading to the introduction of new training programmes and an increase in new training providers.

Similarly, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah as the MPEC Chairman at the Initiate Human Capital Summit 2021 said how Brunei’s youth may be competing for more jobs regionally in the near future. Human resource practitioners and skill development institutions play a vital role in ensuring the local talent show adaptability and a strong readiness for the future.

“We are living in a time of change and with that comes many uncertainties. The global pandemic came at a time when we thought the most uncertainty would be from the integration of the Fourth Industrial Revolution into our day-to-day lives,” he said.
The minister added, “This also happens against the backdrop of a decade-long growth trend for the global economy, one of the longest growth trends in history. It coincides with rising unemployment in many countries and increasing number of challenges in mental health management, especially among youth.

“These many trends have not and cannot go unnoticed by human resource practitioners. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the use of technology will only expand in its influence and we are witness to how it is reshaping the way we live and work.”

He said that the COVID-19 outbreak has been a catalyst for technological transformation, not least in relation to the trend of working remotely, where in some countries, there are reports of higher productivity and greater cost-savings.

“However, what it truly illuminates is the double-edged nature of technology, as stress levels rise due to the blurring line between work and home, and the encouragement of the ‘always on’ culture. This is a new way of working that human resource practitioners will continue to work to improve and put related policies in place in preparation for the future,” the minister said.

Technological advancement also has the potential to increase competitiveness in the job market, the minister added, as the acceptance of working remotely or virtually essentially removes geographical barriers.

He said that “the decade-long growth trend of the global economy” is due to “being in the uncharted territory of global economic expansion; the global economic trend comes with many uncertainties, where the risk of a global slowdown and its adverse impact on retirement accounts can be detrimental.

“Hence, it is possible that many around the world will continue to work until much later in life while a growing number of youth enter the workforce. The management and coordination of the new generation and the previous generation in the workforce are essential to any economy’s sustainability.

“As we enter this uncharted territory of global expansion, the pace of economic change and changes within industries can accelerate, leading to increased possibility of skills-mismatch when looking at demand and supply in the job-market.”

He highlighted the ability of human resource practitioners to assess candidates’ readiness for a job as being paramount, especially in objectively measuring criteria such as emotional intelligence, teamwork ability, time management skills and social skills.

The impact of COVID-19 is relatively well-managed in Brunei and the role of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has yet to take full swing, so the effect on economic performance and changes to the way of working are still relatively subtle.

“This means that we have been given time and granted the chance to learn from the mistakes and successes of others around the world, to ensure we adopt and adapt only the best practices in managing human resources and other related matters,” he said. “Going forward and in light of the changes that will inevitably come, the role of human resource management cannot be considered as a support function in an organisation, but rather a strategic partner to help navigate the workforce to succeed in the uncertain future.”