Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Job creation: every thing starts with the schools!

MEMBERS of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, closing their national conference on Tuesday, vowed to work with the Philippine government to “improve the match between jobs and skills” in the country. Specifically, Ecop proposed that both parties conduct an inventory of skills critically needed by the nation and identified priorities as certain job-rich industries including cyberservices, agribusiness, health services, mining, creative industries, hotels and restaurants, medical tourism, aviation and maritime sectors.

This is the best thing both parties could do to address joblessness in the country. For far too long, analysts have been crying about jobless growth in the country, until it recently became apparent that jobs are being created yet there are few takers because graduates don’t have the qualifications. Ecop, however, should go beyond skills inventory to address the problem. That effort only addresses the question of labor supply. Ecop has access to information on labor requirements of companies all over the country. The group, therefore, should complement this effort by providing information on labor demand. The idea here is the setting up of an efficient labor market information system down to the regional level so that parents and students would be guided in making career decisions. Right now, high school students don’t have any idea what to take up in college. They rely largely on the advice of their parents, neighbors, and relatives who are themselves ignorant of the labor market conditions.

We suggest that the private sector work more with the schools and universities. Lacking a good labor market information system to guide them, most schools are also at a loss as to what sort of disciplines and curricula to offer—part of the reason why most of them end up as diploma mills. The best thing the employers could do is sit down with these schools, examine their course offerings and tell them what exactly are the skills needed by the work place so that graduates would not have a hard time doing their transition from school to work. The country’s telecommunications and cyberservices industries have started to do this with selected schools in Metro Manila and Calabarzon. We suggest that the government help institutionalize these linkages between work places and the universities down to the regional level as well.

For its part, the government—especially the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education—should take a hard look at the country’s educational system, especially in view of the rapidly globalizing world. Is the country’s educational system attuned to the demands of the brave new world?

We suspect the contrary because of the continuing weakness of most graduates in the sciences, mathematics and the English language. These kinds of disciplines require lots of lecture hours, laboratory work and focus to ensure mastery. But mastery our students couldn’t achieve because of the often crowded curricula.

Elementary and high school students, for instance, have more than a dozen subjects each day. Students, therefore, end up too pressured to cope with so many subjects, and often barely have the time or energy for those subjects that really matter in the real world. Added pressures are the tendency of school officials to use students as props and mass dancers during fiestas, visits of dignitaries, and athletic events. Ditto the practice of mobilizing teachers to perform election-related duties and responsibilities. Do we want a lean and mean school system? We start with a lean and mean school curriculum for elementary and high schools.

We need to do all these measures quick because globalization suggests that the world now is the market place for skilled Filipinos. Right now, skills in certain industries like aviation, nursing, caregiving, mining, aircraft mechanics are getting scarce because of strong global demand. Many employers in these sectors are now so desperate some have suggested a ban on the export of skilled labor from these industries. But we know that these measures are not going to work. The only surefire formula is producing enough workers both for the local and global job markets and the first step is the country’s school system.

If you have any doubt about this, check out the latest special report by the New York Times on why America, while cracking down on illegal immigration, is throwing wide open the doors to nurses from foreign countries, with development experts worrying about the impact of these on countries like the Philippines and India.

For the longest time many of us nurtured the well-worn notion that “whites like brown nurses because white young men and women don’t like to clean ass.” Well, it turns out that smart-alecky, not to mention insulting (to both races) generalization is debunked by the NYT finding that America is seriously in short supply of nurses because its leaders have for years ignored advice to support nursing schools and the teaching of nursing. Each year, the US’s nursing schools turn away hundreds of thousands of applicants, indicating that many youths over there are interested in the profession but there’s no conscious effort to provide the schools and teaching hospitals for them. Many end up taking courses in the Carribean or some such similar destination. On the other extreme, Filipinos are so eager to produce nurses for the world that our computer and engineering schools have reinvented themselves as nursing schools.

Either way, this mismatch of demand and supply between First World and Third World isn’t good for both in the long term. One (USA) can be so dependent on foreign workers that, who knows, the day will come the supply of workers will be treated much like a commodity, say, like the gas pipelines that Russia cut off to the Ukraine earlier this year in a bitter dispute over pricing and transit terms. Conversely, the labor-supplying countries can also be held hostage to threats of rejection of their workers if they can’t agree with host governments on certain terms.

From a globalist viewpoint, that’s a “function of the market.” But from the national interest of each country, it’s clear both the labor supplier and labor importer need to rationalize their internal job matching systems: and for either one, schools hold the key to good business.


Anonymous said...

Hi, sir dave! i'm rapunzel, one of the students at the manila times na in-orient nyo sa research department some years ago...

i agree with a lot of the things in this site... medyo ang hirap nga lang magbasa ng mahaba sa monitor...=)

as what we say, marami namang trabaho, wala lang qualified. =)

Dave Llorito said...

thanks for visiting. yeah that's true. how are you now?