Bernardo M. Villegas
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Improving Competitiveness of Filipino Workers

          We hear complaints of Chinese workers taking the place of Filipinos in construction work.  Although this view may be exaggerated, it is possible that some Chinese workers are supplementing the supply of construction workers in the Philippines as the industry, under the strain of the Build, Build, Build program, is suffering from serious shortages of carpenters, plumbers, mason, electricians, plumbers and other construction-related technical workers.  As I have discussed in several articles before, we are still suffering from the psycho-sociological bias of both parents and their children against technical or vocational education in favor of an over-emphasis on college diplomas, which in many cases lead to nowhere.  We have inherited the U.S. bias against technical education which has been the forte of European educational systems which give a lot of importance to technical or vocational education.

         The good news is that the Government is taking a lead in improving the competitiveness of the Philippine labor force. Up to recently, private foundations like the Meralco Foundation, the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, the Dualtech Foundation and the CITE in Cebu have been at the forefront of producing very marketable technical skills.  Dualtech alone has produced more than 12,000 highly skilled electro-mechanical workers that have been readily absorbed especially by the booming industrial estates in Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Cebu and Baguio.  To the efforts of the private sector the State will be able to contribute in producing more employable technical workers after President Duterte signed last February 22 Republic Act No. 11230 which instituted a Philippine Labor Force Competitiveness Program and Free Access to Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET).  The law, also known as the “Tulong Trabaho Act,” is meant to provide free access to technical-vocational training to deserving individuals so as to solve the problem of a serious mismatch between the skills produced by the educational system and the actual jobs available.  The Philippine Labor Force Competitiveness Program will be designed to assess and address the prevailing requirements of industries with the help of the Department of Labor and Employment.  The Technical and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will identify selected training programs (STPs) and will be responsible for overseeing the distribution of the Tulong Trabaho Fund to qualified recipients.

         To ensure that the qualified youth from the less privileged families are able to fully benefit from the program, the Fund will cover full payment of training fees as well as additional financial assistance, such as transportation allowance and laboratory fees, as needed.  In addition, those who qualify for the Program will not be required to pay for the costs of assessment and certification, issuance of national certificates and other documents, administrative and all other procedures required for the completion of the TVET program under the STPs.  Those who can qualify for the Fund are as follows:  1) an individual at least fifteen years old who are unemployed, and not in education and training; 2) employed workers who intend to enhance their current skills and undergo trainings.  Workers in enterprise-based companies or industries currently trained by their employers shall be excluded from the coverage of the Act.  As a way of subsidizing the costs of existing schools and training centers, these institutions may submit a list of their trainees to the TESDA Regional Director for evaluation.  The list of qualified recipients will then be forwarded to the TESDA Director for approval. 

         As a means of quality control, the TESDA Board will periodically evaluate the schools and training centers that receive funding.  The recipient industry boards and training institutions will have to ensure that at least 80 percent of their beneficiaries are able to pass the Philippine Technical-Vocational Education and Training Competency Assessment and Certification System.  Otherwise, the school or training center shall be subject to performance review and audit by the TESDA Board.  A major objective of this program is to address the acute shortage of skilled and licensed technical workers required by the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program which is the country’s boldest infrastructure agenda so far.  Under this program, the government has programmed to spend about $170 billion on massive infrastructure projects for a six-year period until 2022.  The shortage is aggravated by the continuing outflow of Filipino workers who are employed abroad in construction work, especially in the Middle East.

           The “Tulong Trabaho Law” will go a long way to help sustain the Build, Build, Build, Program way after President Duterte’s presidential term expires in 2022.  We expect the aggressive program to build infrastructures to be continued at least for the next fifteen to twenty years since the Philippines is way behind its East Asian neighbor in building the modern infrastructures needed by a First World country.  Although the private sector can help substantially in improving infrastructures in the urban areas, it is the government’s main responsibility to improve the living conditions of the rural poor who have been left without the farm-to-market roads, irrigation and energy systems, post-harvest facilities and others that are needed to improve the living conditions of  farmers and other rural workers, especially in the coconut regions  of Southern Luzon, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao.  For comments, my email address is