Fishing skills

Vanuatu’s skills development program ‘enables’ returning seasonal workers to develop small businesses

After nine years of flying back and forth between New Zealand and Vanuatu, Roy Tinning hopes the next regular overseas booking he will make will be for the export of his vanilla.

The former recruiter is one of more than 30 graduates from Yumi Growem Vanuatu, a business skills training and financial coaching for former seasonal workers.

Mr Tinning said the skills he learned through the program encouraged him to expand his vanilla operation.

“It changed me and it changed my business,” he said.

“Now I sell vanilla all over town.

“People buy vanilla from me online…and my long-term goal is [in] 2028 we will export vanilla.”

With the program now in its second year, other Pacific countries are planning to create similar initiatives, while an organization in Australia plans to hold workshops for seasonal workers before they return home.

More than 30 returning seasonal workers participated in the program.(Supplied: V-Lab)

Growth opportunity

The programme’s founder, Marc-Antoine Morrel, of the charity V-Lab, explains that Yumi Growem Vanuatu means “We grow Vanuatu” in the local Bislama language.

He said the weekly sessions, which lasted about 10 months, fostered the professional and personal development of participants.

“The activities enabled the participant to make informed decisions to analyze risks and challenges and, perhaps most importantly, to build self-confidence,” Morrel said.

“The work that has been done has contributed to giving [participants] some hope and skills to become successful entrepreneurs.”

Mr Morrel said the program has also generated “a lot of interest” in the Pacific region.

“We have had discussions with Timor Leste and Kiribati where there is interest from the government [to] establish something similar,” he said.

“It is very exciting and very rewarding to see that what is tested and piloted in Vanuatu could at some point be replicated in all the Pacific Islands.”

Skills and self-confidence

Yumi Growem Vanuatu participants have started a range of businesses from piggeries to poultry farms, fishing, construction and retail.

Before joining the program, Merly Charley said she only sewed for her daily needs.

But the former packing station worker, through the training, realized the value of her skills.

This led her to open House of Handicraft – a storefront in Port Vila.

Ni-Vanuatu woman Merly Charley in a purple dress with a smiling white woman.
Merly Charley has used the skills she learned through the program to grow her business.(Provided: Merly Charley)

“I’m proud of what I do and it’s served me more to grow this as a business,” Ms. Charley said.

“I always recommend other friends to apply and come [V-Lab] support to shape and develop their vision.”

Ms Charley said she would like to see Australia and New Zealand provide financial and business advice to seasonal workers before they return home.

Australian support

The idea of ​​a pre-scheme for seasonal workers while abroad is being explored by the chief executive of South Australia’s Pacific Islands Council, Tukini Tavui.

Mr Tavui said he had spoken to Mr Morrel about running weekly workshops with registered trainers for Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) scheme workers.

“Then people could continue with the V-Lab program when they return to Vanuatu,” he said.

A bald man with a green and blue shirt standing in a field
Mr Tavui hopes to support the development of commercial workshops for seasonal workers in Australia.(Rural ABC: Jessica Schremmer)

Since 2020, the Australian and New Zealand governments have provided approximately $800,000 to V-Lab in the form of grants. This will support the program until June next year.

Mr. Tavui hoped that developing programs like Yumi Growem Vanuatu could reduce the brain drain in the Pacific and help others realize their dreams.

“The key element of our discussions is about sustainability,” he said.

“How do we maximize this opportunity where our islanders go to Australia [and] New Zealand to work and earn money?

“How can we maximize this and create sustainable systems and processes to enable people to participate in small businesses to grow their communities, families and homes.”

A group of Ni-Vanuatu men in high visibility at a Loxton vineyard hold the flag of Vanuatu.
The largest number of PALM workers come from Vanuatu.(ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)

It’s a problem that led Mr. Tinning, the inaugural participant in Yumi Growem Vanuatu, to form an association to help others maintain the skills learned through the programme.

He said he was inspired to do it after seeing people get caught up in a cycle of wins and returns.

“Some of them don’t get a lot of money from employees and some of them get enough money, but the problem is they can’t manage their money,” Mr Tinning said.

“They use that money until it’s finished and they go back [overseas] and the work.

“My encouragement to all is to keep digging until you strike the gold.”