IF only the Philippines, like Australia, had a clear vision of what the future would be four years from now.
In 2015, economists, reputable research groups and think tanks outside the Philippines predicted a “strong growth in the Philippines’ construction sector” – 10.9 percent – because of a “robust private sector and a stable monetary policy.”
BMI Research of the Fitch Group cited research by real estate consultancy Colliers International that “25,000 residential condominiums will be built in Manila’s main business districts over the next two years, representing almost half the 58,000 units built over the past 40 years.” Fitch Group is a global leader in financial information services with operations in more than 30 countries.
Other factors cited by BMI that will drive the growth of the construction sector are the strong services income coming from the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector and the robust remittance inflows which in turn is expected to boost housing demand.
In addition, BMI believes that President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to spend more than P7 trillion (US$144 billion) in infrastructure between 2016 and 2022 will provide strong support to the construction industry. With Duterte’s pivot toward China, the current administration expects to get $24 billion worth of financing and investment deals after the President’s visit to Beijing in October this year.
Those were the projections. Then reality hit on All Souls Day 2016.
For construction projects to continue, the industry needs skilled workers.
Claro Cordero Jr. JLL Philippines Head of Research, Consultancy and Valuation said in a text message to The Manila Times, that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector not only in the Philippines but on a global scale.
“The shortage of skilled labor has affected the Philippines, as the more advanced economies continue to lure them, due to higher compensation packages and more favorable work conditions,” Cordero said.
Salaryexplorer.com, a career resource site, lists the salary comparison in the Philippine construction industry by job title.
Skilled workers in the industry, such as electricians, masons, plumbers and carpenters earn around P450 to P650. Skilled workers in the construction industry such as electricians, masons, plumbers and carpenters earn around P450 to P650 pesos a day (approximately US$10 to US$15).
Down Under, construction workers are paid handsomely. The Australian wage rate per hour below had been converted into the Philippine peso equivalent.
Back in the Philippines, Cordero proposed the raising of compensation for, and improve the working conditions of, construction workers to address the construction worker shortage problem.
A week later, Julius Guevarra, Colliers International director for advisory services, confirmed to reporters that “the lack of skilled labor in the construction sector continues to cause delays in project completions.”
In fact, Guevarra said that out of six residential projects slated for completion in the second quarter of 2016 only one was completed due to lack of skilled labor.
BMI must have missed the Philippine News Agency report on July 30, 2015 that “the lack of skilled workers” –caused by OFWs seeking employment abroad for higher pay and better working conditions–“ slows and stunts the rapid growth of the construction industry.”
Last December 28, Colliers International reiterated its earlier concern that labor shortage is a threat to private construction in the Philippines–and the trend is expected to continue nationwide for 2017.
Australia’s employment experience and projections
Closer to home, Australia’s Department of Employment predicts that Australia shall need 29,500 construction and trades workers by November 2020, up from last year’s 382,000 to 412,100 jobs over the next four years.
However, with rising nationalist groups demanding that jobs be given first to the country’s citizens, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was reported by Sky News last month to have indicated that the list of occupations eligible for temporary and permanent visas will be cut following a call by the opposition for greater restriction on immigration.
While defending the temporary work visa (Subclass 457) especially by employers from outside major cities, Mr. Sutton said a review and subsequent condensing of the list is “already underway.”
According to Australian Broadcasting Corp., the opposition spokesman for employment Brendan O’Connor said “the use of the visa was hurting Australian workers”.
Outside of Australia’s two major political parties (Labor and Liberal) and farther to the Right, One Nation political party proposes not just a cut in the list of occupations and skilled migrants but a “zero net” immigration claiming that “Australia is near her carrying capacity…and that mass immigration has passed its due date.”
For example, Cooks is an occupational classification identified as one with abnormally high temporary work visa numbers–6,770 as of mid-2015.
Numbers beyond politics and construction
Politics aside, the report by Australia’s Employment Department shows the need for qualified, competent and eligible managers, professionals, technicians, workers not just in construction and trades but in the business, science, education, health and hospitality sectors as well by November 2020.
Regional Australian employment projections
Australia’s Skilled Occupations List (SOL) identifies occupations which are considered to be in short supply throughout the country. Meanwhile, each state and territory also has its own list of occupations in demand combined in a list called the Consolidated Skilled Occupations List (CSOL).
Applicants nominated by a state or territory could get an additional 5 points towards the 60 points needed to be invited to pursue permanent residency. The four sectors most popular in all states and territories are occupations in the health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, education and training and professional, scientific, technology and services, a reflection of the employment projections for all of Australia.
The temporary work visa (Subclass 457) has been losing its luster because of the stringent requirements that an employer needs to comply with and fees to be paid not only to the Australian government but also to the source country, e.g., the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) fees in the Philippines.
The most viable option that Australian employers choose is to offer part-time or full-time jobs to international students, especially those who are eligible to apply for the 18-month temporary graduate visa.
Foreign students are allowed to work 40-hours per fortnight (20 hours a week) while school is in session and full-time employment during off-school periods. In addition, international students pursuing permanent residency could get 5 points bonus for completing “one or more degrees, diplomas or trade qualifications for award through a course or courses taken at an Australian educational institution.”
Completing a course in a region outside metropolitan Australia also earns points. Taken together, therefore, completing a course in regional Australia and pursuing work directly related to the work (or experience) virtually assures a successful permanent residency application and bright prospects for job offers. (Source: Australian Government, Department of Employment, Labor Market Information Portal, Dec. 2016)
Unless the current administration elevates its campaign to solve corruption and poverty in the Philippines beyond swearing at detractors and killing only the slipper and foot soldiers, the country will continue to see the exodus of skilled workers and professionals who also fear being collateral damage in President Duterte’s relentless pursuit of cardboard justice.