Whole-of-government approach to address unemployment

Rokiah Mahmud

In addressing the unemployment issues, the Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam will continue to implement policies and initiatives with a whole-of-nation approach to improve the marketability and employability of locals and eventually reduce the unemployment rate in Brunei Darussalam.

This was said by Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah, at the Legislative Council (LegCo) session yesterday.

The unemployment rate at the end of 2020, with collected administrative data, is an estimated 4.2 per cent, compared to the Labour Force Survey findings of 6.8 per cent for 2019.

However, the estimated unemployment rate is also subject to the Labour Force Survey findings for 2020, which is still being conducted by the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics (JPES).

The Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC), which bears the role of ensuring effective human resources planning and corresponding workability towards addressing the issue of unemployment in the country, has rolled out several initiatives including gathering information on the projected manpower needs for the next five years. These also include the types, bulk of employment and the required duration to plan sectoral manpower supply according to relevant industrial needs.

The MPEC will continue to collaborate with stakeholders’ agencies, including ministries, regulators and the industry itself. Through this collaboration, an estimated 14,000 employment opportunities have been identified for 2021-2025 in various sectors.

The establishment of the the Manpower Industry Steering Committee (MISC) acts as a platform for collaboration with industry players, regulators and other institutions. So far, MISC has identified about 40 critical occupations; and with the cooperation of the Institute of Brunei technical Education (IBTE) and Politeknik Brunei (PB) under the Ministry of Education (MoE), it has launched six programmes for capacity enhancement. Several new programmes will also be introduced in the near future.

Meanwhile, the MPEC, through JobCentre Brunei (JCB), has also carried out a number of initiatives such as proactive job matching through Recruitment Fairs, Institution Outreach and Mukim Connect, to ensure that local jobseekers register at JCB for compatible employment opportunities and available training.

In 2020, around 80 sessions were conducted, featuring over 8,000 visitors. At the same time, JCB also conducted periodical walk-in interview sessions, during which 141 interviews were held and opened up employment opportunities for more than 3,000 jobseekers. By the end of 2020, 4,304 job vacancies were successfully filled by locals, out of the 6,642 vacancies advertised at JCB.

Regarding local recruitment for all sectors in 2020, MPEC has targetted around 12,355 employment opportunities to be filled by local jobseekers. By the end of 2020, around 12,763 employment opportunities were filled by locals, surpassing expectations. Out of that figure, 10,561 locals were employed in the private sectors, of which 8,480 or 80 per cent were youth.

In 2020, the MPEC also extended the i-Ready Apprenticeship programme to Diploma Level 5 and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). Since the introduction of the apprenticeship programme in 2017 up to February 29, 2021, a total of 4,040 graduates took part in the programme, of which 3,424 were bachelor degree holders or higher, while 331 were Diploma Level 5 holders and 285 were TVET holders.

Out of that figure, 1,175 apprentices were successfully employed, which is around 79 per cent from the 1,488 who have either completed their apprenticeship programmes or gained job offers before the completion of their programmes.

Furthermore, SkillPlus has been introduced to provide jobseekers or mid-career workers in the private sector with the opportunity to undergo upskilling and reskilling courses, towards supporting growth in the private sector.

At the same time, MPEC has collaborated with the Lifelong Learning Centre under MoE in providing specific courses such as online training and hands-on training. As of March 1, 2021, the programme has proffered around 180 courses in 10 fields, with 569 locals applying for the programme.

To address the issue of unemployment among the vulnerable groups particularly among those who are able-bodied and able to work, MPEC is also collaborating with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and other stakeholder agencies.

As of February 28 this year, around 1,610 out of 3,518 people from these vulnerable groups have registered at JobCentre Brunei. Out of that number, 873 gained employment through programmes introduced by the MCYS such as TEKAD (a poverty eradication plan) and Employment Plan Programme.

The MoE through IBTE has also introduced iSkill programmes that focus on the oil and gas industry; Life Skills for Professional Development, which is being expanded to all IBTE programmes including HNTec, NTec and ISQ; and the TVET Academy for the provision of training facilities, as well as instructional content and delivery for all teaching staff, in addition to coordinating and facilitating the professional development course.

In the meantime, Politeknik Brunei in collaboration with industrial agencies and the MPEC, have explored new programmes to meet industry demands. These include Diploma Level 5 programmes in health science, engineering, petrochemical technology and information and communication technology (ICT).

For this, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Politeknik Brunei and Hengyi Industries Sdn Bhd was inked on March 13, 2021. Under this MoU, seven Diploma Level 5 programmes – thermal power plant technology, water treatment technology, chemical equipment technology, power plant and power system technology, and storage and transportation technology – will commence on July 2021. The exceptions are the laboratory technology programme, which commenced in July 2020; and the Chemical Engineering programme, which began in January 2021.

Some 85 students are currently undergoing the programme. At the same time Hengyi Industries Sdn Bhd is offering ‘Conditional Offer of Employment’, which is an offer of employment once the students completed their three-year course, according to specified conditions.

These programmes were the result of discussions which have taken place since early 2020 between the MoE, the Ministry of Energy, and the MPEC. The programme is expected to produce around 210 graduates annually, starting from 2023.