Bernardo M. Villegas
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Bright Job Prospects for Filipinos (Part 1)

          There is too much talk about Industry 4.0 (the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Robotization) threatening the young with unemployment in the future.  It is repeated again and again that many jobs will disappear in the wake of the digitalization and automation in all economic sectors, whether manufacturing, services or agriculture.  The young, growing and English-speaking population of the Philippines need not  fear that they will be unable find jobs in the next twenty to thirty years as long as they are bent on acquiring skills especially through technical and vocational education or through professional courses in engineering services, nursing, architectural services, tourism, medicine, dentistry, and accounting services, among others.   Needless to say, there will be a great demand for IT professionals and data analysts.  A recent publication of the Asian Development Bank entitled Skilled Labor Mobility and Migration (edited by Elisabeth Gentile) highlighted the vast opportunities for educated manpower from the Philippines to benefit from the scarcity of trained manpower in the whole ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) region.

         Demographic change and urbanization and rapid technological advances are disrupting labor markets across the AEC and have spurred demand for new, more specialized skills.  One of the primary objectives of the AEC is to encourage skilled labor mobility to address shortages, promote knowledge transfer and boost productivity.  Members of the ASEAN (comprising ten countries with a total population of more than 650 million attaining middle class status in the next decade or so) are working together to encourage the free flow of skilled labor within their countries.  Goods, services, investment and capital are already flowing freely within the region.  The next challenge is to improve intra-regional labor mobility.  Because of its young, growing and English-speaking population, the Philippines is one of the few ASEAN countries that will be most benefited from this freer flow of skilled manpower. 

         ASEAN in the past two decades witnessed a greater volume of the movement of people within the region.  The total number of intra-ASEAN migrants have more than quadrupled, from 2.1 million in 1995 to 9.9 million in 2016.  Intra-ASEAN labor mobility at the moment is largely taking place in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) involving migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos to Thailand and the Indonesia-Malaysia route as well as migrants from Malaysia to Singapore.  As the demand shifts to higher-skilled labor, especially in the professional services, the Philippines will have a competitive advantage.   Just consider that in 2018 alone, there were a total 2,981,803 university students in the Philippines as reported by the Commission on Higher Education.  Of these, there were 1,181,203 in state universities; 198,282 in local colleges and universities; 5,973 in other government schools and 1,981, 803 in private higher educational institutions.  Of the total enrolment, 110,342 were in pre-baccalaureate courses; 2,618,756 in baccalaureate courses; 11,204 in post-baccalaureate; 214,540 as masteral students and 26,961 in doctoral programs.  These are the young educated manpower, augmented yearly by an increase of about 400,000 in new enrolment in higher education, that will be available as skilled and knowledge workers, both for the Philippine needs and for export to other countries.

         The ADB study also makes reference to the needs of non-ASEAN economies like Taiwan and Japan.  Care givers from the ASEAN are highly prized in Taiwan while nurses and care givers are in great demand in Japan.  ASEAN remains a net exporter of human capital with 60 to 70% of its international migrant workers residing outside the region such as non-ASEAN Asian countries and the Middle East, with an increasing share of them as skilled and highly educated workers. The Philippines can be expected to have larger supplies of these educated manpower because of the ongoing reforms such as the K to 12 new curriculum, the greater importance given to Technical and Vocational Education and the large increases of expenditures for education in the government budget.  There is also a greater interest of the private sector to invest in tertiary education, especially in fields which directly address the needs of industry.

         Among the ASEAN countries, the Philippines is blessed not only with a young and growing population (like Indonesia and Vietnam) but also with a huge English-speaking manpower base that gives the country a competitive advantage in overseas jobs (English being the international lingua franca).  Its major competitor is India that also has a huge population (more than ten times that of the Philippines) with numerous English-speaking workers.   It is notable that a recent article appeared in the Eurasia Review News Analysis about India’s population explosion being a human capital resource for a global ageing society and should not be a concern.  We can say exactly the same thing about the Philippines despite the fact that some Philippine government officials are constantly fretting that the Philippines is suffering from a so-called population explosion.   The Eurasia paper wonders why India’s increase in population is considered a burden while a major part of the developed nations are plunging in ageing societies.   Quoting from the article: “Countries like Japan, UK, Germany, France, USA, South Korea and even China with the biggest population are sinking in ghettoization by ageing people.  To this end, surge in population in India is a human capital for these countries to overcome shortage of working population.  Given the people mired in ageing society in developed nations owing to low fertility rate and depopulation, the global working population is in danger.”   (To be continued).