Keeping them home

MANY younger Filipinos have their minds set on finding their futures outside the Philippines, according to the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) ASEAN Youth Survey. The data is disheartening: 52.9 percent of the Filipino youth aged 15 to 35 — the so-called Millennial and Z generations—prefer to work overseas than here at home.

 This aspiration is closely shared in the Southeast Asian region by Thailand, where the tally stands at 51.9 percent. Meanwhile, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam are in the opposite, with the majority of their younger generations preferring to stay and work in their own country.
The WEF survey talks about how a higher salary remains a big factor enticing our youth to opportunities abroad. Combine that with the persistent inability of our own job markets to absorb our graduates — a fact borne out by the January 2019 Labor Force Survey which showed that nearly 21 percent of the country’s unemployed had college degrees.  What we end up with are the “pull” and “push” factors to the brain drain that debilitates our country. 

Indeed, this is not a new story.  But the WEF survey brings up some interesting ideas on why our youth seek to work abroad. It appears that they accept and welcome the idea of constant learning and re-skilling throughout their lives — or in short, lifelong learning. Up to 43.7 percent of Filipino respondents said they believe they must upgrade their skills constantly, while 17.3 percent said that their current education and skills will last for another five years before they need to retrain.

Apparently, many of our youth look for job opportunities where they can add more to their existing skill sets and receive more training. In fact, the most common reason for changing jobs — cited by up to 19 percent of respondents across the region — was “for better opportunities to learn and develop.” A higher salary and income was a close second. 

The survey then cites the ideas of Harvard University Professor Dr. Ricardo Hausmann on how economic development is dependent on the “knowhow” — or practical skills as differentiated from theoretical knowledge — of a country’s workforce.

According to Hausmann, the knowhow present in an economy can be acquired and improved in a number of ways — through foreign companies investing in a country and engaging in technology transfer; through foreign workers moving to a country and bringing with them their skills and competencies; or through domestic workers spending time overseas and learning new skills.

Could it be that our youth yearn to work abroad because they want to learn more — and not just earn more? How does that affect current efforts to keep our youth from leaving?      

The WEF survey further found that ASEAN youth on average wish to be involved more in the tech sector. They tend not to prefer jobs in small and medium enterprises, as they are looking to be entrepreneurs — i.e. their own employers. They also have no interest to be part of traditional industries like manufacturing, or construction. Finally, they put a high value on skills such as creativity, innovation, language proficiency, and the ability to use modern technology. Conversely, they do not value data analytics, mathematics, and other so-called STEM skills. 

Assuming these job and skill preferences are true for Filipino youth, they stand in sharp contrast to the in-demand and hard-to-fill occupations listed in the JobsFit 2022 report of the Department of Labor and Employment.

Consider that the five top in-demand jobs for 2017 to 2022 are the following: administrative clerks, appraisers, automotive brake system service technician, automotive painter, and baker. For those that are hard-to-fill, the following are on top: 2D echocardiography technician, account executive, accounting manager, animal husbandry professional, asphalt roofer.

There appears to be a disconnect between what younger generations of Filipinos look for and the in-demand and hard-to-fill jobs present in the country. Clearly, that gap must be bridged if we are to stop at all the exodus of our best and brightest.   

How then do we bring the jobs to our shores that our youth are looking for? In other words, how do we keep them home? We’ll discuss some ideas in a future column.

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Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He recently won another term in the Senate. (Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara/PN)

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