Bernardo M. Villegas
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Fostering the Culture of Apprenticeship

          A German friend of mine, Paul Schaefer, recently passed away.  Thanks to him and the Hans Seidel Stiftung, the German foundation he headed for more than twenty years, a good  part of Philippine industry has seen the inculcation of the very healthy culture called dualvoc (work-study) which is the German approach to the apprenticeship system.  Tens of thousands of young workers, the great majority of them coming from the poorest families all over the Philippines, have acquired the necessary qualifications that have made them very employable in leading manufacturing and services enterprises requiring high-level technical skills, whether mechanical, electrical or electronic.  To cite just one notable example, many of them were absorbed by Lufthansa Technik in the maintenance and repairs of some of the most technologically sophisticated air planes, not only for Lufthansa but for other international and national airlines.  Needless to say, these graduates of the dualvoc system (called dual tech in the Philippines) earn wages much above the minimum wage even when they are still in their early twenties.

         Last December 15, 2017, the Financial Times carried an article entitled “Apprentices help drive Swiss growth” which heaped high praises for the work-study or apprenticeship system for creating a pool of highly-skilled workers and efficiency gains in Switzerland.  It is not a coincidence that Switzerland always comes out as Number One in Global Competitiveness in annual rankings like those of the World Economic Forum.  As the FT article stated, “Switzerland’s long-established apprenticeship system, combining classroom and workplace learning, is widely seen as one of the affluent country’s greatest economy strengths, creating a pool of highly-skilled workers.”   Switzerland share this apprenticeship culture with other German-speaking countries in Europe, as affirmed in the FT article:  “Dating from medieval times, formal apprenticeship schemes remain entrenched across German-speaking Europe.  Not coincidentally, Germany and Austria, as well as Switzerland, have among the continents’  lowest youth unemployment rates.”

         As I have written in previous columns, we have to take advantage of the newly introduced K to 12 system in basic education to introduce among the youth and their parents a culture of preferring technical education to academic training in college, not only to guarantee high incomes for them after finishing tertiary education but also to address the severe shortage of technically skilled workers, especially in the booming construction sector.  We are also seeing a renaissance of manufacturing investments as foreign investors shift their operations from China to Southeast Asia.  We cannot continue producing college graduates who are not employable as industry goes begging for skilled workers.  It may take time to change the mindset of parents and the youth as regards their bias against vocational or technical courses.  But we have to keep on pounding on facts such as the following as contained in the FT article: “In Switzerland, two-thirds of students in the final stage of secondary education opt for vocational training, mostly in three- or four-year ‘dual’ programmes combining classroom study with workplace training.  Prominent alumni include Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of UBS, who began his career in the mid-1970s as an apprentice at Corner Bank in Lugano, and Peter Voser, chairman of ABB engineering group, who started in the early 1980s on a vocational training course at a bank in Aargau.”

         These examples of CEOs and other top executives of large corporations who rose from being technical workers are no longer rare in the Philippines, considering the case of the first technical school to adopt the German dualvoc system in the early 1980s, thanks to the assistance of Paul Schaefer and the Hans Seidel Stiftung.  Because of the ladderized system, some of the graduates of Dualtech, a technical school located in Carmelray, Canlubang, have gone on to pursue engineering degrees and eventually became supervisors and factory managers in their own rights.  Another model of dual training in the Philippines is the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise located in San Jose, Cebu City.  Established in 1990, CITE provides top-quality technical training to persons belonging to the lower-income stratum of society by means of scholarships.  It also provides technical re-training and management upgrading courses for industry workers.  Both Dualtech and CITE give the highest priority to values education, inculcating in their trainees the virtues of hard work, attention to details, integrity, perseverance, diligence and respect for others.  From the decades of experiences of these two schools, they have shown that there is no such thing as a “damaged culture” in the Philippines.  Filipinos, especially if trained from a young age, can be as productive as their German or Swiss counterparts.

         A very important feature of the apprentice system is obviously partnership with industry.  Dualtech in Canlubang has literally hundreds of factories, most of them in the CALARBARZON region, in which their students do their apprenticeship program.  These students have their jobs practically assured since most of them are offered jobs by the companies in which they did their on-the-job training, although it is not obligatory for them to accept these offers if they have better prospects elsewhere.  To cite some examples, among the many partners of CITE in Cebu are DOST and the Consuelo Foundation to set up and operate a precision and test instruments calibration laboratory which caters to the needs of companies in the Visayas and Mindanao; technical partner in the nationwide IT development program of the Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development with Coca-Cola International; the Association for Cultural, Technical and Educational Cooperation of Belgium for the establishment of the Training Center for Out-of-School Youth and Displaced Workers; Foundation CODESPA of Spain for the integration of information technology course in the Industrial Technical Program (ITP) beginning school year 2000; grant from Lucent Technologies for the design and development of web-ready training modules beginning year 2000; training center for Procter & Gamble and San Miguel Corporation.

            It is my fond wish that DUALTECH and CITE can be replicated in all the regions of the Philippines, with the help of TESDA and private industry.  As the Philippines finally catches up with its East Asian neighbors in industrialization, there will be a big increase in the demand for technical skills that cannot be produced by our university-biased educational system.  We must channel more and more of our young and growing population to the technical and vocational schools that can learn from the experiences of the Swiss, the Germans and Austrians.  I call upon the embassies of these countries, as well as other European countries that have also adopted the apprenticeship system, to channel some of the Official Development Assistance (ODA)  funding to help in establishing technical schools that use the dualvoc system.  Those interested in Dualtech and CITE can easily find their websites in the internet.  For comments, my email address is