HR strategies for Papua New Guinea

Welcome,

David James reports how Papua New Guinean businesses are taking local cultural considerations into account in the management of their staff.

An employee happy at work at Datec. Experts say offering opportunities for advancement and self-improvement are key to retaining workers. Credit: Datec

Managing people effectively is the most important task facing any business or organisation, and Papua New Guinea is no exception. But human resources management is different in a country that has less than 20 per cent of the population in formal employment. It requires distinct strategies suited to the local culture.

One of the challenges is the tribal diversity of the country, evident in the fact that PNG has one-third of the world’s living languages, reflecting how different the local cultures are.

A common approach is to develop a single internal culture within the organisation. That is the approach of technology services company Datec.

‘The national staff come from different tribes,’ says Chief Executive Stanley Ng Plyler. ‘There are more than 800 tribes speaking different languages. Outside the organisation our national staff have their different cultures, but inside we are all one Datec family.’

‘All human beings share a common desire to better their lot in life. Papua New Guinean nationals are no different. If an employer does not offer opportunities for self-improvement and advancement, then you are almost guaranteed to lose that staff member.’

Capital Insurance Group’s Keith Land.

A similar method is used by Capital Insurance Group. Group Chief Executive officer Keith Land says a lot of work is being done with people and culture, including offsite meetings.

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Land says the HR strategy is to develop a compelling narrative about the company. ‘We have got a wall, about four-metres square, in which we now have individual colleagues marking up what is the best thing that has happened in the last 12 months. We are capturing our story to inform our future.’

Another approach is taken by New Britain Palm Oil (NBPOL), which works in partnership with local farmers. Ian Orrell, Group Head of sustainability at NBPOL, says the company is the largest employer in the country, after the government, with almost 25,500 permanent employees on the payroll.

‘These are not temporary employees or linked to contractors and subcontractors. These are full-time employees. And, of all of these, only 106 expatriates, or 0.4 per cent. The rest being PNG nationals.’

NBPOL has developed a successful HR strategy that uses, rather than attempts to replace, the local culture and history.

‘Apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and Facebook Messenger allow us to call candidates and clients on remote sites. With faster internet being introduced to PNG, video technology will only continue to shape our experience.’

‘Smallholders are an extremely important part of NBPOL’s upstream operations. We support 17,500 smallholder farms, many of which have co-resident families: an estimated total population of about 150,000. Smallholders represent about a third of our crop production.’

Finding skilled workers

Michael Kingston Chief Executive of K K Kingston. Credit: K K Kingston

The biggest HR challenge is the difficulty in finding, and keeping, skilled workers. Michael Kingston, Chief Executive of manufacturer K K Kingston, believes it is critical to invest in training staff, even though there is a risk they may leave.

‘All human beings share a common desire to better their lot in life. Papua New Guinean nationals are no different. If an employer does not offer opportunities for self-improvement and advancement, then you are almost guaranteed to lose that staff member. Investing in training, and offering opportunities for advancement, are good for staff retention.

‘Cast aside preconceptions, and measure your staff retention rates, before forming a view. You may be surprised at what you find. If, however, the data does support the hypothesis that staff tend to leave once qualified, it is worth asking why. If your staff are leaving after having received substantial training, there is a reason for it. You need to know what that is.’

Stephen Mead, PNG Country Manager for Recruitment, Payroll Management and Training Agency Peopleconnexion, says increased use of the mobile phone is changing the way recruitment is conducted. ‘Mobile phones have become a great equaliser, giving us access to talent situated anywhere. Candidates are now socially connected, which is why it is so important to have clear employer branding and candidate management strategies in place.

‘Technology has evolved so quickly that we no longer need to be in the same room as candidates and hiring managers. Apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom and Facebook Messenger allow us to call candidates and clients on remote sites. With faster internet being introduced to PNG, video technology will only continue to shape our experience.’

This is an edited version of the article ‘HR strategies for PNG’, which was first published in the September-October edition of Paradise, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini.

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