By Pepper Marcelo
It’s graduation time again. In a country where one’s worth is often measured by his educational attainment, finishing college is one of the highly anticipated milestones. Never mind that the graduate is at the bottom of the class or that he came from one of those diploma mills. What matters most to many Filipino parents is that are able to send their child though college; whether the graduate gets to practice what he studied or lands a job afterward is another matter.
But the celebratory mood is short-lived. Soon after, reality sets in: many of the graduates will have a hard time finding decent jobs, much more jobs that are suited to their studies. Thus we see marketing graduates answering phones and filing records, or mass communication majors taking on contractual jobs hawking credit cards in malls. The luckier ones end up as call center agents and bank tellers, jobs that require only three to six months training in developed countries.
Clearly there is a mismatch between the types of graduates our schools produce and the kinds of skills that the labor market needs. As a result, years of studies and the concomitant cost of college education are wasted. Labor statistics show that roughly half a million graduate are unable to get work in their chosen field each year. Despite numerous vacancies, local and overseas employers often complain about the lack of employable college graduates. Phil-job.net, the official job search site of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), shows that some 125,000 local and overseas job vacancies are still open and have yet to be filled by qualified applicants. (See related story.)
A recent study by the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES) of DOLE shows that 1.052 million, or 39.1 percent of the unemployed, are college graduates and undergraduates. “The large proportion (50.6 percent) of the recorded 2.6 million unemployed Filipinos are young workers aged 15 to 24 and are educated with a college diploma or are undergraduates,” the study says.
In the nursing profession, for example, there are 80,000 nursing board passers each year, but there are only a handful of job openings, according to the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) and the Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders and Advocates. Statistics on the total of unemployed nurses are estimated to number upwards of 150,000. Many of them have become call center agents due to the difficulty of finding nursing jobs at home and abroad.
Graduates of business administration, hotel and restaurant management, and information technology are in the same boat. Statistics show that only three out of every 100 new college graduates are hired yearly because of their failure to pass competitive qualifying exams. Thus many of the graduates – or at least those with a workable grasp of the English language – end up as call center agents or bank tellers.
“Even if they’re graduates, they might not have the qualifications, competency and experience that the job requires,” says Criselda Sy, Director of BLES. “A major concern is that we’re not educationally at par with the standards of the industry.”
Moratorium on popular courses
To address the oversupply of graduates in certain courses, the Commission on Higher Education (CED) has imposed a moratorium on the opening of new programs effective this year. The following undergraduate and graduate programs were declared suspended for an indefinite period: Nursing, Business Administration, Teacher Education, Hotel Restaurant and Management and Information Technology.
According to CHED, the top five major disciplines with the most number of graduates were Business Administration and Management related Programs (114,000), Education and Teacher Training (96,000), Medical and Allied Professionals (87,000), Engineering and Technology (63,000), and Information Technology (49,000).
The moratorium is the government’s response to the proliferation of specific programs, which if left unabated would further lead to the worsening of the quality of our graduates. The mushrooming of certain courses, according to one study, has resulted in the weakening of the Business Administration and Teacher Education programs, as well as the decline in the passing rate in the Licensure Examination for nurses.
CHED is focused on ensuring that Philippine educational institutions are developing a national qualifications framework to improve tertiary education. It is pushing for schools to attain proper accreditation. Although CHED prescribes schools to attain the minimum requirements, it nonetheless encourages and evaluates institutions to go above the minimum targets so as to make their standards comparable to foreign standards.
CHED is working in collaboration with a technical panel of experts from the academe, as well as business and industry leaders, via their Policy Standards and Guidelines (PSGS). The multisectoral panel shall formulate academic development plans and make recommendations for specific disciplines.
“That’s our mechanism,” says Vitriolo. “Before you offer a program you have to comply with established policies and standards, which are formulated by the panel. Aside from that, there is a public hearing process, where we invite everyone, including students and parents, to attend the forum. After that, we finalize these standards for schools to follow.”
CHED has designated Agriculture, Mining Science, Aeronautics, Geology and Software Engineering as undersubscribed collegiate programs for which there is a big demand for qualified graduates.
Jobs of the future
In 2010, DOLE held a forum with business executives and “captains of industry” to discuss future business trends and their corresponding requirements for the next ten years (2010-11). Some of the critical concerns raised in the forum included the need to improve the analytical and communication proficiencies of students and their corresponding information technology skills, as well as honing the managerial skills of college graduates.
Through consultation and research, the government and the private sector identified 12 Key Employment Generators (KEG): Agribusiness, Cyberservice, Health and Wellness, Hotel Restaurant and Tourism, Mining, Construction, Banking and Finance, Manufacturing, Ownership Dwellings and Real Estate, Transport and Logistics, Wholesale and Retail Trade, and Overseas Employment.
In Agribusiness, for example, some of the specific in-demand occupational titles include Animal Husbandry, Agricultural Economist, Aqua-culturist, Coconut Farmer, Entomologist, Horticulturist, Plant Mechanic, Veterinarian and Pathologist.
Career guidance needed
“The problem is even if we do that, it largely remains a choice of the students,” says Vitriolo. “For example, there are very few takers in agricultural education, because they don’t find it as something as attractive [as nursing]. There are few people now taking that, but we need it, because we’re an agricultural country.”
DOLE recommends that there needs to be an intensified focus on information dissemination regarding hard-to-fill and in-demand occupations, including college degree courses with an oversupply of skills, so that students are able to make informed decisions about their career choices.
“The business community should alert the educational sector about its labor requirements, and figure out how to attract enrollees in those areas,” says Sy. “That’s where career guidance and orientation come in. A student should be aware of what is going on in the labor market and make an informed career decision, so that after graduation, they will know where they should go.”