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  • A large group of PNG women in orange high-visibility workwear in front of a shed.
Work readiness project equips women with work and life skills

Hailing from Papua New Guinea’s mountainous Enga province, 40 women have hit the ground running in south-east Queensland in their new working life as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.

The women were among 200 who took part in the PNG Work Readiness Pathway pilot project, which provided training for the critical skills needed for people to participate in the PALM scheme in Australia, access vocational education pathways and join the national workforce.

A woman in an orange high-visibility shirt and pink and white beanie holds a strawberry plant.
The Enga women planted strawberry runners in Stanthorpe.

Over 7 months between October 2021 and April 2022, the pilot program taught the participants English literacy, numeracy and finance skills. It also covered women’s empowerment, self-care, nutrition, family planning, health and wellness, social and employability skills and the living and working conditions in Australia.

The women are now putting these skills to use as seasonal workers in the horticulture industry in Queensland.

They were initially supposed to be picking strawberries in Caboolture, but that industry has been heavily affected by flooding in Queensland in February and March 2022.

Instead, the women were redeployed to Stanthorpe, where they were planting strawberry runners for the upcoming temperate season in southern Australia.

Stanthorpe is the coldest place in Queensland, but the women had little problem adjusting given they come from the PNG highlands.

"Out of every country I’ve had, these women arrived the best equipped for work as far as what clothes they had, they were probably the best prepared by a country mile, which makes our job a whole lot easier," said Rodney Prestia, Chief Executive Officer of iComply labour hire, the women’s employer.

Some of the women had previous knowledge working in the Enga’s large strawberry industry, which made their move to Queensland even smoother.

"When they came, they knew what a strawberry runner was and they had a definitive knowledge in strawberries," Mr Prestia said.

The women are now based in Gatton, near Toowoomba, to pick and pack broccoli for the harvest season.

A man in a hoodie poses for photographs with women wearing traditional PNG clothing.
The 'footy mad' women from Enga met former PNG rugby league captain David Mead.

Away from work, Mr Prestia said the women had been involved in church activities and were getting out and about in the community.

"We’re very big on pastoral care and we conduct fellowship every Friday night and the women have been very active in fellowship. They all don their PNG dresses and they’re very spiritual and they follow their faith a lot," he said.

The women headed to Suncorp Stadium in July to watch the Brisbane Broncos play the St George-Illawarra Dragons in the NRL, experiencing the pinnacle of rugby league – Papua New Guinea’s national sport.

They were also visited in Gatton by PNG national team captain David Mead, who recently played his final Test for the Kumuls in a victory over Fiji.

"They’re footy mad, they watch all the games and everything. It’s a bit of common ground and the women love talking footy," Mr Prestia said.

The work readiness pilot program was supported by the Papua New Guinea - Australia Partnership and was delivered by the PNG Department of Treasury - Labour Mobility Unit.