Bernardo M. Villegas
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Model Sector in Talent Development (Part 1)

             There is understandable concern about the low quality of basic education in the Philippines.  It is widely known that our 13-yearold youth perform very poorly in international achievement tests in such fields as reading comprehension, math literacy and scientific reasoning.  Solutions here are long-term, such as increasing the percentage of what the Government spends on public education to GDP, which is a very low 2% compared to the average in the East Asian region which is between 5 to 6%.  With higher spending in education, salaries of teachers can be increased.  There can be more adequate facilities such as classrooms, teaching materials and internet connections and other relevant technologies in this age of Industrial Revolution 4.0.  Of course, more funds do not necessarily mean an improvement of the quality of education if there is a high level of corruption and poor governance in the Department of Education.  In this regard, I have personal knowledge that Vice President Sara Duterte and concurrently Secretary of Education is giving the highest priority to making sure that all the people she will appoint as Undersecretaries and Bureau Directors will be persons who are not only professional competent but are known for their high moral standards and personal integrity.  Among those who are screening the candidates for high positions in the Department of Education is the Security Adviser of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Secretary Clarita Carlos, well known as a no-sense reformer.

            Improving the quality of basic education today will redound to our having the required human talents and skills ten or more years from now. Indeed, we will need a significant leap in the quality of our human resources a decade or more from today when the Philippine economy will be struggling to transition from a upper-middle income economy to a high-income one.  We must, however, even more concerned about the quality of our human resources in the next five to six years. This means we have to focus on how to upskill, reskill and retool those who are in their twenties and thirties, those who have already finished their formal education at any of the three levels, primary, secondary and tertiary education.  We are now referring to those who are employed, underemployed and unemployed.  These are the human resources who can be further developed to address shortages of manpower in such critical industries in which there are already shortages of qualified personnel such as farming, infrastructures, health. seafaring and information technology (especially analytics).  To cite a much lamented example, the average age of a Filipino farmer now is close to 60 while very few of their children take up farming as an occupation.    Another well-known shortage is in the construction industry where there are very few qualified electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, etc.  More recently bannered in the news is the  possibility that European ships may soon lay off thousands of Filipino seafarers because their training does not meet the global standards established in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW).

            There is no question that these shortages of skills and talents in sectors that are important engines of growth of the Philippine economy must be addressed in the short term.  We cannot wait for the grade school and high school students of today to supply the needed talents.  This problem of talent development must be borne jointly by the Government, private business sector, the academe and civil society. Here, I would like to single out an industry that has come out with a talent development strategy over the next five to six years to address its own need for talents and skills. I hope that the other sectors foreseeing a shortage of talents and skills in the near or intermediate future will emulate this model of talent development.    I am referring to the BPO-IT sector that expects to employ one million more workers over the next five to six years in order to build up its earnings from the present $30 billion to more than $50 billion by the year 2028.  Its leaders is taking the bull by the horns by coming out with a human resource strategy that it intends to implement with the close cooperation of the different sectors of society.  In a document that was prepared by the Everest Global, Inc. it clearly states that human capital will play a critical role in the 2028 growth journey.  Globally, there is already a growing talent shortage for a majority of new technologies skills as well as domain expertise.  This is already evidenced by the fact that even in the midst of the pandemic, the Philippine BPO-IT sector continued to grow its workforce as the developed countries turned to the Philippines and India for their manpower requirements.  In line with these global trends, talent/skill shortage is considered to be the largest challenge for the growth of the Philippine IT-BPM industry.  There should, therefore, be multiple interventions required to elevate the quantity, quality, and skills of the Philippines’ human capital considering future demands of the industry.

            The first set of recommendations have to do with the formal education system, especially increasing the number of universities/colleges and quality of centers of excellence of IT-BPM-related programs along with enrollment rates with a dedicated focus on provincial cities such as Iloilo, Davao, Tuguergarao, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Laoag, and others.  For those already in the workforce, especially college dropouts, vocationally trained students and females, there should be an industry-entry mechanism for an industry-entry mechanism for a ready workforce.    The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) should ensure scalability and quality of programs by introducing proper assessment and training regulations which are strictly followed by course providers.  TESDA should ensure proper training is imparted to course developers and faculty of academic institutions on how to create courses that are aligned with the Philippine Skills Framework (PSF).  The International Labor Office (ILO) should strengthen and scale its “Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development” to increase outreach.

            Because the IT-BPM sector requires more knowledge-intensive workers than other industries, such as farming, infrastructure and seafaring, there should still be an emphasis on increasing the number of colleges offering disciplines with Center of Excellence (COE) and  Center of Development (COD) status by  20% in provincial cities by 2026.  Correspondingly, there should be an overall increase of university graduates (bachelors, masters) pool by 15% by 2025 and by 40 % by 2028 over current levels with a special focus on STEM graduates.    Currently, only 15 % of the TESDA’s budget is for IT-BPM courses.  This should be increased to at least 25%.  For greater coordination, there should be a centralized governance mechanism to bring efforts (e.g. skill surveys, PSF development) from all the agencies (currently more than  10 agencies/institutions are  involved) which are leading talent reform initiatives.  To be continued.