Page last updated at 03:40 UTC, Tuesday, 14 March 2017 PH
With all the infrastructure projects being planned by the Government and the private sector in the next six years and the continuing demand for low-cost and economic housing, the ongoing shortage of such skilled workers as electricians, mechanics, masons, plumbers, house painters, etc. will worsen if we are not able to change the mindsets of parents and the youth about the types of occupations that they should choose. There is a distinct bias even among the poor against blue-collar work. A colonial mentality has instilled an irrational preference for a college degree even if many of these college courses produce graduates that are unemployable. There is a mismatch between many of the products of our school system and the types of skills being demanded by Philippine industry.
It is my hope that the introduction of the K to 12 curriculum may address this sociological problem. With the added costs of the senior high school (Grade 11 and 12), a growing number of parents may come to their senses and get rid of their prejudice against technical or vocational courses. It is also encouraging to see a good number of industry associations such as those in the BPO, hospitality and constructions sectors partnering with high schools and helping them to design curricula for Grades 11 and 12 that contain skills training for their respective industries. For example, one does not need a college degree to be an effective agent in a call center or in a good number of IT-oriented services such as medical transcription, accounting, animation, and other documentation services.
I am glad that I have been involved for the past thirty years with one of the most successful technical schools producing electro-mechanical workers. The school is Dualtech which pioneered the dual training system in the Philippines adapting the German approach to technical education. The Dual Training System (institutionalized in the Philippines by Republic Act 7686) fosters partnership between schools and industry. It facilitates better employment through a structured “learning while doing” approach and gives appropriate formation through cycles of theory and practice. Over and above technical skills training, Dualtech gives the highest importance to formation of the youth in virtues and values. Over the last thirty five years, Dualtech has produced more than 10,000 highly skilled workers in electro-mechanical sector and has supplied highly skilled and motivated manpower to numerous domestic and multinationals enterprises, especially those located in the many industrial zones doting the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Batangas.
In the most recent issue of its semestral publication Forge, one of its alumni, Paolo Martinez from Sto. Tomas Batangas and son of a farmer, tells the story of how he rose to the top of an important multinational manufacturing enterprise, Transcendit, by deciding to forego a college engineering course at the Mapua Insitute of Technology under a scholarship from the Ayala Foundation. He instead took a technical course in electro-mechanical skills at the Dualtech School in Canlubang. Instead of following his dream of becoming an architect or engineer, he convinced himself that his future would be brighter if he learned how to work with his hands. In one of his first jobs after graduating from Dualtech, he described his work as follows: “I mastered the art of making half threaded screw and improved the output until we had overstocks. I improved the mixture of epoxy for the contact finger to make it perfectly set inside the oven. I lengthened the life of springs, thus minimizing returns due to poor workmanship. From then on, the senior technician trained me as well on my first machine.” He then went from one promotion to another: “Through exposure and training I was able to move up and was even sent to Germany for two months of training and production benchmarking. I always train and share knowledge with my team so as to make my work easier. I was always ready to learn more from teaching and project deliberation. I was promoted to Project Engineer of New Product Industrialization. This involves Feasibility Study up to Production Qualification. It was my biggest break.” Today, he is the Product and Engineering Manager for Philippine Operations of Transcendit located in one of the industrial zones in Laguna. His career story is not unique. Thousands of graduates of Dualtech have similar career experiences: a college education is not necessary for reaching top positions in manufacturing enterprises, whether domestic or multinational.
A more recent story is that of Josh Rhobert Cruz, who delivered the Valedictory Address in a Dualtech graduation just a few months ago. Josh actually already started a university course at the University of Asia and the Pacific. In his address, he recounted that because of lack of focus in his university life and not having concrete career plans ahead, he decided to quit college after two years of studying. He was advised by a mentor to consider taking a course at Dualtech. His first visit to Dualtech was not very encouraging: “The first thing that got my attention was the Mechanical Laboratory, students were filing a piece of metal in Benchwork. It was dirty and they looked tired while doing it. I had never been exposed to doing such works. I was also bothered by the thought of living far from my home in Marikina.” In his first days of class, he had to endure the contrast between his soft and comfortable lifestyle and the harsh economic realities faced by most of his classmates. He spoke of his consternation when he realized that he had a classmate who had to survive on a budget of 50 pesos a day, with 40 pesos on transportation expense alone. Another classmate would wake up at 3 a.m. in order to walk for an hour to reach school on time. Still another cried when he experienced for the first time in his life being feted with a birthday cake. The hardships being faced by the majority of his classmates and their determination to succeed in Dualtech inspired him to follow their example. Having been considered as a big brother by his younger classmates throughout his two years at Dualtech, Josh decided to work in the school as a mentor in gratitude for the training he received.
These are just two of the countless stories documenting the wise decision of high school graduates, in agreement with their parents, to opt for a technical course rather than a college education. It will not only be in construction that a severe shortage of skilled workers will be felt in the coming five to six years. As numerous manufacturing establishments relocate from China to the Philippines in the immediate future (I just confirmed this trend in a recent road show I joined in Tokyo), there will be a big jump in the demand for skilled manufacturing workers that can be filled if more of those who will enroll in senior high as we transition to the K to 12 curriculum will choose the technical skills track. After they graduate from senior high with these skills, they have better chances of being gainfully employed with attractive salaries than the average graduates of college courses. I am strongly convinced that as we experience a renaissance in manufacturing, it would not be necessary for a good number of our high school graduates to pursue a college degree. They would be better advised to acquire technical skills instead in construction or manufacturing. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.