“Despite the economic success over the past few years, our people continue to leave our shores for New Zealand and Australia to seek other employment opportunities,” says destination development director Metua Vaiimene.
There are fears that tourism and hospitality jobs are paid so poorly that young people are looking elsewhere for work.
Vaiimene has acknowledged the number of immigrant labour problems.
Foreign workers are being brought in to fill low-paid, low-skill jobs – but with no foothold to get to more attractive jobs, young Cook Islanders are left with few career options.
Vaiimene’s comments came after this week’s careers expo for college students. He said: “It is vital for tourism and the sustainable development of our industry that Cook Islanders remain engaged and wanting to work in all of the different sectors.”
A report this year from the World Travel and Tourism Council says the skills gained by young people in the industry can translate into rewarding careers in the sector – and beyond. “These youth jobs have proven to set workers up for higher paying and fulfilling jobs in later careers,” it concludes.
And at this week’s expo, major employers Pacific Resort and CITC (which employ significant numbers of local and foreign workers) advertised their career pathways.
Vaiimene said “Cook Islands tourism sees this as an opportunity to engage with our future work force, and not just in tourism but all of the industry’s that support tourism.
“We have signed up more than 30 students today who said they would be interested in coming and working for Cook Islands tourism during their school holidays.”
Cook Islands Tourism was encouraging career paths through gainful employment for future generations, Vaiimene said.
Lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen said Cook Islanders did not want entry-level hospitality jobs because they paid the minimum wage of $7.25 and were usually labour intensive.
These gaps in the hospitality industry are likely to be filled with foreign workers who were especially vulnerable to being overworked and underpaid, he said.
The minimum wage is set to increase to $7.60 on July 1.