Michael To’otalau is a lawyer employed as a cleaner under the Seasonal Workers Program in Australia. This was not the dream job he had spent hours studying for.
Mr To’otalau has a law degree but like many from the Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations who came through university, he has no job.
The International Labour Organisation stated in its report that it is clear that the pacific region suffers from significant unemployment and under-employment, particularly amongst the youth, who form a large part of the population.
Youth unemployment in the Pacific is estimated at 23 per cent and the situation is particularly dire in countries such as the Republic of Marshall Islands, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Mr To’otalau is willing to share his story so that Pacific youth know that employment is not automatic upon graduating.
“When I was in university, I thought life after completing my law program would be an enjoyable one because of my qualification. After graduating from university, I went home hoping to get a job, but no job opportunity was available,” he said.
Mr To’otalau realised that people had been pre-selected for what little jobs there were. He applied for a lot of work without success.
He was not a man who was going to take things lying down. He even went to the municipal council so he could sweep the streets of the town he was living in.
“In 2021, I completed my GDLP at UniFiji, where in the same year, I did my practical placement at the Solomon island Solicitor’s Office. After completion of GDLP, I knew the struggle which I had gone through after completing University was still there waiting, so I made a quick decision on whether to seek a job that suited my qualification or not. Therefore, I applied to join the seasonal worker (program), and was fortunate to have that opportunity,” Mr To’otalau said.
“Now I am a cleaner, a job I think many young boys or girls won’t like, but money is what matters. So my friends in university, please start thinking about what you are going to do after completing your study. The competition for job opportunities in our country is very high.”
Mr To’otalau has a contract for three years as a cleaner and he intends to complete it and then return home. At the end of it all he still intends to practice law.
“To practice law is my dream. I have a strong mind that after completing my three years contract in Australia, I will return home to work in law firms or any legal office that welcomes my application. I also want to start a small business. My goal is to save money to have the capital to begin,” he said.
“I hope the government can create more jobs that fits the number of students studying at the universities and others who are still in high school.”
Mr To’otalau believes that those with qualifications should take any opportunity that comes their way. He urged youth in the Pacific to broaden their horizons and look at starting businesses.
“Many of my friends who graduated from university are still seeking employment. I hope the government will provide a remedy to this problem of lack of job opportunities,” he said.
According to the South Pacific Lawyers Association, legal jobs in the region have been dwindling as there are more graduates coming out every year and the work opportunities remain limited.
SPLA director Jacob White said there were other employment opportunities outside of the judicial sector for those with law degrees.