Papua New Guinea’s war for talent


Papua New Guinean employers are bracing for a fierce battle to attract and retain skilled workers.

talent Papua New Guinea

Students at the University of Papua New Guinea’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Credit: Australian Government

While the skills base in PNG has improved significantly since the construction period of the country’s first LNG project, which peaked in 2012, employers and recruiters are already witnessing a new ‘war for talent’ in anticipation of PNG’s next gas project, Papua LNG.

‘We will be doubling our team in PNG. That’s reflective of the growth we see coming on the horizon,’ Kristine Berry, Managing Director of recruitment company Peopleconnexion, tells Business Advantage PNG.

‘It’s growth across the board; from hospitality through to senior executives, to sales, and a lot more technical specialist roles.’

Filling the void

Employers are already struggling to find staff for key specialist roles.

‘We’re operating with over 20 vacancies – including maintenance and automation engineers – that’s where we have big gaps,’ says Ed Weggemans, Managing Director of SP Brewery.

‘Finding good skilled people has been a bit of a challenge for us,’ agrees Hulala Tokome, Country Director of Puma Energy. Tokome notes, however, the country has an abundance of unskilled labour.

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While recruiters typically start by trying to match employers with skilled Papua New Guinean workers, hiring offshore talent can be equally tough, given global skills shortages. The Australian labour market, which has historically supplied many skilled workers to PNG, is ‘super tight and super expensive,’ says Berry. Her company has expanded its skills search globally: ‘We are bringing people from everywhere in the world to PNG.’

‘We shouldn’t be importing unskilled or semi-skilled labour. But, unfortunately, people are already talking about that.’

She reminds PNG employers that ‘no-one pinpoints PNG as a destination of choice. It’s about pitching yourself as the employer of choice, and pitching PNG as a unique opportunity to catapult one’s career.’

Offer the right incentives

Even in normal times, larger employers in PNG compete within the same limited pool of skilled workers.

‘You’ve got to offer the right incentives to not only retain existing talent but attract talent,’ says Ian Tarutia, departing CEO of superannuation fund Nasfund. This means ‘having the right rewards and recognition, paying competitive salaries and benefits,’ such as housing and education allowances as well as transport to work.

Loyalty bonuses are also a commonly used inducement in PNG.

An important factor, notes Tarutia, is ‘building an organisational culture that individuals want to be part of, and where they see a pathway to develop.’

Building skills

In the words of John Lewins, CEO of K92 Mining, ‘we have to grow our pool of mechanical and technical trades.’

While institutions like the Kumul Petroleum Academy, non-for-profit organisation CareerTrackers and the universities of technology at Port Moresby, Lae and Goroka are doing their best to produce skilled graduates, many specialist skills can only be acquired on the job.

Many employers, such Steamships, KPMG and SP Brewery, have graduate intakes annually to hand pick the most promising recruits, while many others, such as PNG DataCo and ICTSI, conduct specialist training in-house.

Nevertheless, it is generally acknowledged that more needs to be done to address the skills gap.

‘Government and companies need to be driving that and planning ahead,’ suggests Berry. ‘We shouldn’t be importing unskilled or semi-skilled labour. But, unfortunately, people are already talking about that.’

Recruiters are bracing themselves for a busy, but exciting, couple of years.

‘It’s actually quite scary,’ says Berry. ‘It’s going to be a huge challenge.’

This story first was first published in the 18th edition of Business Advantage PNG, Papua New Guinea’s premier business magazine. Access the digital magazine here. Read the emag here.


  1. It is also important to have a good workplace mentor who is able to see the big picture in passing on knowledge and skills to young people who will carry on.

  2. Gion Amean Belo says

    When there is no apprenticeship training from either companies in PNG, how would we turn our youths and technical college graduates who are just on the street forever looking for job? You can never tap on one’s head and ask him/her to climb up, you must present them with a ladder to climb up…or else local spaces will already be filled by foreigners and even our natural resources be taken away like they did to the African Countries…we must learn from our Global Past to live today. My son is a Petroluem Engineer. He has a diploma. However, he has never got any good reply.

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