AT A RECENT speech in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, President Duterte said that many of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” projects were delayed in part due to a lack of skilled workers. This is a pity, especially since millions of our countrymen are still without any steady form of employment.
Public officials and private sector leaders had already sounded off on this issue before. As early as 2017 for instance, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) estimated that the country’s homegrown construction industry faced a manpower gap of up to 2.5 million, considering that up to 70 percent of workers were unskilled. We may have the warm bodies to fill the gap, but it appears they lack the expertise needed for a “golden age of infrastructure” to come to fruition.
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has the mandate to address such a challenge. And with the enactment of the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (UAQTE) Law, government is ready to provide ample budgetary support to scale up ongoing technical education and vocational training efforts. TESDA will need to shape up though, as the agency only spent roughly 20 percent of the P7-billion allotted to them to implement UAQTE in 2018.
A broader problem is that our bench of skilled professionals will remain shallow if our best and brightest continue to leave the country for greener pastures abroad. Indeed, brain drain remains among the chief problems the country has yet to meaningfully address.
Some say that as long as salaries remain higher in other countries, Filipinos will continue to be pulled to job opportunities abroad. On the other hand, a look through the 2019 INSEAD Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) suggests that there are factors, other than salary concerns, that push our people to leave our shores.
In fact, the Philippines fell in its GTCI rankings, dropping to 58th out of 100 countries from 54th out of 119 in 2018. The fall was driven by a general weakening in most of the six pillars or sub-indices of the report pertaining to the country’s ability to “1) enable,” “2) attract, and 3) grow talent, as well as the levels of 4) vocational and technical, and so-called “5) global knowledge” skills present in the country.
The biggest drop however was observed in the sub-index for 6) retaining talent. Where we ranked 68th out of 119 countries in 2018 for the “retain” factors, we fell to 92 out of 100 in 2019.
Measured under the “retain” pillar were such factors as the sustainability of the country’s pension system and the effectiveness of its social safety nets. Also included were indicators measuring healthcare coverage (or the number of physicians for every 1,000 persons), personal safety (as a function of peace and order measures), and access to proper sanitation.
What the report suggests is that stopping the brain drain that has plagued our country for decades isn’t just an issue of employment or job creation, but also of pension reform, social welfare, healthcare, peace and order, and basic environmental protection.
Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara./PN