Opinion: why Papua New Guinean companies need to invest in training


Michael Kingston, Chief Executive of K K Kingston, explores why Papua New Guinean companies should invest in training, even when there’s a risk of employees leaving.  

K K Kingston’s Michael Kingston

I have listened to business managers and owners discuss training of PNG national staff. And very often there is a common theme to the dialogue—or monologue—and it goes like this:

I invested time and money into training this person to become a qualified tradesperson/professional, and no sooner were they qualified than they left for a better paying job in the mines. It’s just not worth investing in training because there is no return on investment.’

I strongly disagree with this logic. First, all human beings share a common desire to better their lot in life. Papua New Guinean nationals are no different. This is most true for ambitious, high-achieving, high potential employees.

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 you after having received substantial training, there is a reason for it. You need to know what that is.  

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‘In my experience, the most common reason for leaving is remuneration.’

In my experience, the most common reason for leaving is remuneration. There is no doubt that extractive industries are able to offer remuneration packages that are far greater than businesses in other industries can offer. This is especially true in the trades.  

But there is an interesting phenomenon. While larger pay packets are attractive, they often come at a price. Staff are away from their families and friends, lose contact with their social circles and so on. For many people, this is too high a sacrifice to make for a big pay packet.  

Coming back home

I have observed that many people who leave stable 9-to-5 jobs to pursue a career in the extractive industries find that the grass is not as green as they thought—and after a year or two of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO), they reevaluate their priorities.  

In many cases, they choose to return to more conventional employment, as it offers a greater work-life balance. I have seen many cases where an employee has left us for a job with a mining company and, after a few years, wants to come back.

This could be beneficial for both the employee and the company. The employee has learnt new skills and developed as a professional, and they bring this new knowledge and experience back to the company that trained them. Having experienced the FIFO life, they have also come to place more value on the stability offered by more conventional employment.

I would argue that while the return on investment in training is sometimes slower to yield returns, the returns are indeed there. 

Let me give an example: I employed a person named ‘Donny’ as an apprentice fitter. He completed his apprenticeship, became a very good tradesperson, and worked a further six months with us before a mining company made him an offer.  

‘I could not help but applaud. “Donny” had left us as a good technician, and returned to us as a good leader.’

‘Donny’ and I talked about it. My response was very simple: ‘You need to do what is right for you and your family. If that means leaving, I respect that. But we will part on good terms, and if you should ever wish to return, there is a place for you here.’ 

‘Donny’ resigned and worked for that mining company for a number of years. He found though that being away from his wife and children was too much for him, and he made the decision to return home to Lae. He approached me for a job and we re-employed him.

While he had been away, he had received additional training and further developed himself. He re-join the company as Maintenance Manager for Mobile Plant and Equipment. At the time, I did not fully appreciate just how far he had come. 

Training leaders

Some months later, in an operations meeting, there was a heated debate about safety incidents and causality. While there were nearly 20 people in the room, the debate was dominated by two expatriates, neither of whom would back down from their position on the problem. ‘Donny’ sat quietly and listened.  

After some time, he raised his hand indicating he’d like to speak. He said: ‘You are both missing the point. This is not an engineering problem, a process or people problem. This is a culture problem. Unless we change our culture to one that prioritises safety over productivity, we will never fix this’  

The room was silent. I could not help but applaud. ‘Donny’ had left us as a good technician, and returned to us as a good leader. I felt a great deal of pride, and knew that the investment made in training him had been worth it. 

I would encourage any business owner or manager to re-think their investment-return approach in training. You may be surprised at the results.

Michael Kingston is Chief Executive of Lae-based manufacturer K K Kingston. Read Kingston’s opinion piece on protectionism here.


  1. Gilbert Bimundi says

    An excellent experience shared by Michael. Appreciate it.

  2. Nice article MK!

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