The Philippine Star

Perhaps one of the best signs of improved labor conditions for Filipinos is the continued decreased in unemployment numbers over the last decade and a half. This can best be gleaned in the surge in employee ranks of the business process outsourcing industry, and yes, the sustained deployment of Filipinos to overseas jobs.

For an economy that has been enjoying enviable growth compared to other countries in the region for more than two decades now, it is understandable that there are more notices of job openings as well as busier job fairs where companies hope to find workers for their job vacancies.

In yesterday’s Labor Day celebration all over the country, perhaps more people were seen at the job fairs than in the various organized marches and rallies that sought for higher wages, job security, and an end to labor contractualization.

Over 200,000 positions were posted by various employers who hoped to find suitable matches in the tens of thousands of job seekers that thronged the various job fair tents.

In the past, these employment fairs had managed to recruit a handful of fresh and not so fresh graduates as well as skilled workers for local and overseas jobs, leaving many positions unfilled because of difficulties in matching expectations.

A major complaint of employers had been the dearth in skilled technical workers and competent call center agents. Many job seekers were graduates of courses that made them unsuitable to most positions, or were poorly qualified because of the below-par ranking of their schools.

Continuing job and skills mismatch

Every year, labor watchers decried the inability of the education sector to come up with the right number of graduates that are a good match to the needs of the business sector.

For example, universities in the provinces churn out thousands of new teachers who, unfortunately, will not be able to get into teaching positions because there are not many new openings for these.

Many students pin their hopes on a graduate degree, and are lured by schools to enroll in education because it is one of the least difficult to hurdle. When they do graduate, it becomes a dead end street because the job market is awash in openings for call center agents or technicians that the teaching graduate does not have the skills for.

If it’s any consolation, the Department of Labor and Employment had recently said that it has just started to work on a road map that will align the jobs and skills needs of industry with the educational programs of schools and universities.

Poor quality of education

The other problem is the continued poor quality of education in the country. Thousands of graduates – not only from the provinces, but also from Metro Manila and key cities like Davao and Cebu – are often not suited for the basic employment requirements of companies.

Many cannot even manage to do simple computations using worksheet programs like Excel, and most are not capable of conversing in decent English. Their information technology proficiencies, it appears, pale in comparison to their knowledge of Facebook and other social networking sites.

Many schools have token computer laboratories where students are allotted limited time to study basic computer-based productivity tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Also, the high fees for the use of these labs are often a deterrent for the student to immerse and master the tools.

Low quality graduates

Until we get quality graduates even at the earlier levels of kinder and high school from our schools and universities, it will be difficult to find suitable jobs for them, or to open opportunities of better work that offer improved pay.

It will be difficult to lower the statistics of having seven out of every 10 workers in our work force of hopping from one job to another, of not being permanently employed for years, and therefore being deprived of the benefits that should accrue a permanently employed individual.

The practice of labor contractualization, or having workers who remain on contract basis for years, will continue – simply because these workers do not have the proper skills to take on jobs that create better value for the companies they work in.

We should be thankful that we are in the midst of a global environment where jobs in other countries are made accessible to us. For the industrious who managed to excel in their education, getting a good overseas job is no longer a pipedream.

Making technical careers “glamorous”

In technical education, the main problem lies in an educational culture that does not encourage students graduating from junior high school to seriously consider vocational education as a tool to immediately getting a decent job with a promise of a lucrative career for the industrious.

In this year’s job fairs, the work openings in technical positions (i.e., machine operators and electronic assemblers) were left largely not served. On the other hand, thousands of college graduates could not find decent jobs that matched their skills.

Hopefully, with the shift of the education system to K-12 and with the active hand of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in putting some “glamor” in a technician career, more of the junior high school graduates will choose to move on to a technical vocation course.

Viable wage level for economic growth

As for the minimum wage set by law for employees, the country’s labor sector must commission a study that would determine the strategic importance of having restrictions on wage levels to the country’s overall economic growth.

This is a sensitive issue not only to the current businesses operating in the country, but also to potential investors. Wages should always be regarded as part of the viability cost of investing in the Philippines, and should not be viewed alone
from the point of view of providing a decent source of livelihood to cover for an employee’s cost of living.

If the minimum wage would be raised arbitrarily, it could derail the whole economy’s take off. Now, that’s like killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

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