By Leandro Milan
The country’s education system continues to turn out college graduates whose training and skills are not attuned to the needs of the labor market both at home and abroad. This is the lament of human resources and labor recruitment officials who decry the continuing popularity of glamorous and white-collar courses that produce diplomas but not well-paying jobs.
The criticism had been voiced many times in the past by business leaders and politicians but both government and the private sector have failed to institute meaningful and concrete measures to correct the mismatch between skills and jobs. The issue gains added urgency in view of the government’s inability to provide jobs and its continued dependence on the overseas job market. Problem is Philippine education is not well suited to the requirements of the global economy as well.
“Many overseas employment opportunities abound in sub-specialties of various occupations but the Philippine education system is either ill-equipped and/or unprepared to offer corresponding courses to the demand but rather do a ‘one course fits all’ mentality,” says recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani.
This, he says, has led to “a disastrous oversupply of unemployable graduates.”
“In-demand careers like respiratory therapists, cardio technicians, laboratory, ct-scan, are often passed over in favor of more high-profile careers like nurses, says Geslani.
Lito B. Soriano, president of LBS-E Recruitment and executive director of the Federated Associations of Manpower Exporters, Inc., observes that there has always been a “serious gap” in the education system that persists in having curriculums that are “unsuitable” in providing their graduates with the possibility of employment.
In a study titled, The OFW Economic Engine, Philippine Reality and Required Reform Arising from the Global Financial Crisis, Soriano noted: “Of the one million college graduates annually, only five to ten percent are employed in jobs consistent to their course, only 30 to 40 percent will find any employment. The vast majority of graduates will remain unemployed.”
He says the country is producing too many nursing and tourism graduates who are unqualified to be hired abroad.
“Over 2,000 nursing schools have an annual total enrollment of over 420,000 students and each year, 100,000 new nurses take the board exams yet only 40 percent are able to make the grade,” Soriano points out.
According to him, there are also few job openings for nurses in the country since local hospitals can only absorb less than 5,000 nurses each year while overseas opportunities are very limited.
“Hospitals abroad have very strict requirements like two to three-year experience in specialty or clinical wards with large hospitals having a two hundred bed-capacity,” he explains.
Soriano adds that there around 400,000 licensed nurses who are not gainfully employed and there is an estimated 80,000 board-passers joining the ranks each year. Many of them even end up paying for a job in a desperate attempt to obtain the necessary work experience.
Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show only 10,000 nurses are able to work in the Middle East, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada every year.
At the same time, the country generates more than 120,000 hotel and restaurant management (HRM) graduates every year, says Soriano. Most of the HRM graduates also need additional skills training to be able to qualify for employment overseas.
Labor Undersecretary Rosalinda Baldoz confirms that nursing and HRM courses post the biggest number of graduates for the past years. She says many of those who took up HRM and nursing courses want to go abroad but they cannot immediately qualify for employment overseas due to lack of the necessary experience required by foreign employers.
To curb the growing number of unemployed graduates of nursing, HRM and so-called glamour courses, human resources and labor recruitment specialists urge the concerned government agencies to undertake immediate reforms.
Soriano suggests that non-performing and sub-standard nursing schools be required to enforce necessary measures to improve their performance or face suspension.
For his part, Geslani challenges the colleges to evaluate their current course offerings and make them relevant to the needs of the global economy.
“Producing non-employable graduates of courses for which there is no demand could be viewed as unethical and merely a method of generating cash dividends for stockholders or owners,” maintains Gerslani.
The POEA meanwhile should regularly provide the current global job information so Filipino students could be properly guided in choosing marketable careers. Two examples of in-demand jobs in the Middle East are medical technicians and therapists.
Geslani and Soriano urge college and high school graduates to go to vocational and technical schools if they want to improve their chances of landing jobs. The government, they say, should provide more vocational and technical training opportunities to the youth.
According to Geslani, strengthening the training programs of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) will give more unemployed Filipinos opportunities for local and overseas jobs.
He and Soriano have been batting for massive training programs for the one million graduates from college and another million from the high school ranks, pointing out that blue-collar jobs are the wave of the future.
Lito Soriano, president of LBS-E Recruitment, said high school graduates should consider taking technical vocational courses at this time if they want lucrative job opportunities.
“The Philippines can take advantage of the pressing need for skilled workers in trillion-dollar projects in the Middle East if many of our high school graduates will shift to schools offering tech-voc subjects like auto servicing, technical drawing/drafting, building wire installation, shielded metal arc welding, machining, pipefitting, metal craft, and carpentry,” Soriano points out.
Demand outstrips supply
He says the country is unable to meet job orders abroad due to the shortage of workers with vocational skills.
“Recruitment companies are already competing with each other for the very few skilled workers for their job orders mainly from the Middle East.”
Most foreign employers, he adds, are looking for highly-qualified construction workers such as welders, flame cutters, pipe fitters, and carpenters due to construction booms in various countries abroad.
“Recruiters are hard pressed to supply qualified skilled manpower for the multi-trillion dollar projects in Saudi Arabia and Qatar whose development plans have not slowed down despite the rock-bottom prices of crude oil,” says Soriano.
In Saudi Arabia alone, there are job orders for housekeeping, gardeners, equipment technicians, water treatment, civil technicians, plumbers, painters and all maintenance positions on top of the 4,000 Filipino health workers needed there.
According to Tesda Director General Secretary Augusto Syjuco, about 22,540 plumbing and 20,687 welding job opportunities are available in countries such as in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, Russia, Australia and South Korea.
Skilled workers, such as welders and plumbers, receive higher salary overseas. Syjuco cites a welder who receives as much as $6,000 or P293,070 a month abroad.
“The growing mismatch of workers’ skills and the need of the industry have resulted in numerous overseas job vacancies unfilled by OFWs,” says Soriano. “It’s a matter of choice for students who might want to start a career abroad.”