Bernardo M. Villegas
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How To Redeploy Returning OFWs

          Estimates of the number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who will be forced to come home because of the global pandemic range from 300,000 to 500,000, still a small percentage of the more than 10 million of Filipinos working abroad, especially in the United States, the Middle East and Europe.  Some of them, especially the construction workers returning from the Middle East may be easily absorbed by the Build, Build, Build program of the government and the private sector, especially in the continuing growth of demand for office space from the booming BPO-IT enterprises and in low-cost and economic housing.  What about those who are not in the construction industry?   As Dr. Veronica Ramirez,  leading researcher on OFWs, wrote in an article entitled “What Jobs Await OFWs?”, “Majority of our OFWs are in work that requires them to be with people, such as care for the elderly, the sick and children; baby sitting; selling goods on streets and public places; or serving customers in restaurants and cruise ships.  Many others perform tasks that are essential to daily living such as cleaning, washing, and care of apartment houses, hotels, offices and other buildings…”

         The older ones among these OFW returnees may have no alternative but to seek jobs in their respective localities in the Philippines.  The pandemic has given a premium to the younger workers. The older OFWs  with the necessary entrepreneurial skills may be helped by programs of the Department of Trade and Industry and a good number of private foundations or NGOs to start their own businesses, especially in food and agribusiness, health and wellness, and transport and logistics.  It is inevitable that among the younger ones of these returnees, there  will continue to be a desire to to look for other job opportunities abroad.  What types of jobs will still exist for potential OFWS after the pandemic? To provide a clue, Dr. Ramirez examined the possibilities in one of the countries that have met the challenge of COVID-19 better  than others, Japan.   She reports that before the pandemic, the authorities of Japan identified 14 labor sectors needing low-skilled workers in the next five years.  A legislation to this effect was approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  Among these sectors were nursing care, lodging/hospitality, cleaning of buildings, farming, fishing, food and drink manufacturing, seafood processing, restaurant services, construction, ship building/marine industry, car maintenance, airport ground handling and aircraft maintenance.  Because Taiwan, South Korea and Macau face very similar labor shortages because of extremely low fertility rates like Japan, one could surmise that these job opportunities for Filipinos and Filipinas also exist in these other  Northeast Asian economies.  In fact, because of the very rapid ageing process in China, this largest country in the world population-wise is already experiencing labor shortages in such sectors as health care, education (especially English teachers), and IT-related services.

         A friend of mine, Cesar Averia, Jr., President and CEO of a leading international recruitment consulting company called EDI-Staffbuilders, Inc., told me that he has a Japanese partner who is actively recruiting Filipino workers for the health and wellness sector of Japan.  This reputable conglomerate in Japan has put up a Japanese Training School in Laguna to teach the Japanese language to potential Filipino workers  as caregivers in Japan.  During the various lockdowns resulting from the pandemic, they adopted e-learning so that the caregivers could continue their training.  The Centre is aiming to train a minimum of 500 caregivers for deployment to Japan in the first months of 2021.   Mr. Averia confidently averts:  “This is just the beginning since the ageing society will need more caregivers and we are in a position to provide what they need.  Once the airport restrictions in the specific countries of destinations are lifted, we can fast track the deployment of pre-selected candidates, particularly those who belong to the healthcare, service and IT industries, which will surely be in high demand.”  Manpower search companies like EDI-Staffbuilders are capitalizing on our number one asset:  a young and growing population.

         What is true for Japan is also true for many Western European countries suffering from a similar demographic crisis:  a large number of ageing people and a shrinking labor force.  Mr. Averia is actually targeting not only Japan but some European countries:  “Even as most of our employees have been working from home since the lockdown, our major clients in Germany, Japan and Finland carried on with their recruitment operations (on a limited scale),   wherein our recruitment teams have undertaken a continuing sourcing and interviewing of qualified candidates who have been assessed by the clients via Zoom and Webex interviews.  To be more specific, our German partner who has several clients in Germany have given us job orders for more than 1,000 nurses to undergo the German language training in order for them to reach the B1 status. As such, they have partnered with an E-Learning company in Germany that conducts virtual training for  a period of 8 months after which they will be deployed in Germany.   But this does not stop there.  Germany’s eagerness or appetite for employing Filipinos has increased as they have thousands of openings all over the country.”

         As long as they are still below 50 years of age, a good number of our OFW returnees who have been in service-oriented occupations such as in luxury liners, restaurants, hotels, tourist resorts and similar industries can be retrained with relative ease for the health and wellness sector whose demand for human resources will grow exponentially for at least the next decade or so because the Corona virus is expected  to change lifestyles for some time to come, even if a vaccine is discovered.  In especially the developed countries of the world, the combination of rapid ageing, longer life expectancy and a continuing threat of the virus will lead to a big increase in the demand for health workers and caregivers, occupations in which Filipinos and Filipinas have a comparative advantage as attested to by many public pronouncements of both medical personnel and patients from all over the developed world.  In the post-pandemic period, we should encourage many more investors to follow the example of the PHINMA group, the STI group, the First Pacific group and similar investors who are contributing significantly to the training of health workers not only for our own benefit but for employment in many countries all over the developed world.  For comments, my email address is