Fit To Work?

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[Photo of School Institution]Filipino labor, long one of the country's chief exports, is losing its edge. Why, and what are we doing about it?

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”—Mark Twain

While there are thousands of Filipino children yearning to get an education, those that have the opportunity to go to school may not necessarily be getting all the knowledge they are meant to gain after thousands spent on books and yearly fees.

Colleges and universities have continuously increased tuition fees, but what have these institutions actually done to improve the quality of education?  Many lessons come directly from the black and white texts in generations-old textbooks. Teachers also may base students’ grades simply on memorization and not comprehension. This has become an obstacle for many graduates seeking employment, and may be one of the causes of unemployment and underemployment in the Philippines.

The RP Commission on Higher Education (Ched) recently published a list of the most sought after degrees in the Philippines. Included in the top ten are Nursing, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Business Management and Information Technology. Many of the students enrolled in these courses choose these particular career paths as more and more countries abroad are in need of trained health care givers, IT specialists, service industry professionals.  This need gives them that assurance that the probability of landing a job after graduation is quite high. While sound on paper, because of insufficient learning and training, many fail to qualify for their dream jobs.

According to the RP National Statistics Office (NSO), the unemployment rate in 2009 increased from 7.4% to 7.5% from 2008, which translates to 2.8 million jobless Filipinos last year. Even among those with jobs, 19.1% were underemployed suggesting that graduates of even the popular university programs may not have found employment in their chosen fields.

This trend isn't strictly local, either. Former Socio-economic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito notes that the lack of qualified workers has created a phenomenon of 'graying' migrant worker markets. Habito, now director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development, adds that even our business process outsourcing industry  is in danger. While the BPO industry is expected to boom this year, companies are already “outstripping the supply of qualified workers,” and may force potential clients to do business elsewhere.

Henry J. Schumacher, external vice president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, attributes this to a lack of skills in the workforce. Schumacher insists that in order for more students to land jobs after graduation, they must beef up on technical and creative skills.

He adds that this lack of skills is due to the deteriorating quality of education in Philippine schools. Proof of this can be found in a recent United Nations Global Monitoring Report ranking the state of Philippine education behind those of Tanzania and Zambia.

Schumacher also states that major universities in the country should consider partnerships with foreign institutions in order to develop the correct tools and programs to increase acquired knowledge and competence. Schools like the Ateneo de Manila University have initiated linkages with foreign universities like the Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangdong, China as well as with universities in Europe.

Rival De La Salle University also boasts of a vast network of partner universities including the Asean University Network. The elite nature of the country's top universities, however, means that opportunities for skills development rarely trickle down to less fortunate sectors of society that contribute to the migrant labor force.

[Photo of Job Seekers]Several of our country’s leaders have recognized the need for answering this issue of job-skills mismatch. Senator Manuel Villar Jr, for example, has been calling for government to address the problem of unemployment and underemployment. He says that the increasing number of opportunities for Filipinos to work abroad is going to waste as graduates being deployed often do not meet the requisites of the job.  The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) projects that demand for graduates from the top ten degrees will not change in the next five to ten years. The challenge, then, is to produce quality graduates armed with actual skills, not scraps of paper claiming that they have such skills.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jose Ejercito Estrada, on the other hand, has been coordinating with the POEA, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to counter what he calls the 'non-maximization' of employment opportunities “where millions of graduates and workers produced in the country do not possess critical skills demanded by industries in the country and abroad.”

The DOLE has also initiated Project Jobs Fit. Labor Secretary Marianito Roque says that his office will coordinate with the academe and industry leaders to create training guidelines for schools and businesses. Stakeholders are encouraged to develop curricula and career materials in order to contribute to the development of the Philippine workforce. “For our workers to be truly competitive, our government must give them the right theoretical and practical education, because investing on the right education is the best investment in human capital,” Estrada says.

With remittances from migrant workers seen as a major factor in keeping the Philippine economy afloat, it seems that too little is being done to ensure further employment of OFWs. Initiatives like Project Jobs Fit and skills-enhancement programs are at least a step in the right direction.

As Filipinos, we must work together to provide a better future for the youth.  It should start not just by giving them dreams of better days, but the means and tools to hold on to those rare windows of hope that may one day lead to greener pastures.

Print ed: 03/10


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