UNEMPLOYMENT and underemployment continue to be perennial problems in our country. According to the January 2014 Labor Force Survey (LFS) the unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in January from 7.1 percent a year ago. This means that 2.969 million Filipinos were unemployed. Most of them (48.2 percent) are 15-24 years old, followed by those 25-34 years old (29.9 percent).
About 64 percent of the unemployed were males. One-fifth (19.8 percent) of them were college graduates, easily dispelling the traditional notion that a college education will guarantee a job, a worrying fact indeed to the thousands more graduating or who have graduated from college this year.
While the underemployment rate slightly declined in January to 19.5 percent from an estimated 20.7 percent during the same period last year, it is still a very high figure.
Employed persons who express the desire to have additional hours of work in their present job, or to have an additional job, or to have a new job with longer working hours but can’t have these are considered underemployed
Underemployed persons working for less than 40 hours accounted for 58.9 percent of the total underemployed in January 2014 while those who worked for 40 hours or more made up 38.7 percent.
Most (41.7 percent) of the underemployed work in the agriculture sector, 41.1 percent were in the services sector and those in the industry sector accounted for 17.2 percent.
Unemployment and underemployment are caused by many factors, but one of the biggest factors is that many of the graduates our schools are producing have skills that are not employable in today’s workplaces. Many students are taking courses that will not land them jobs needed by industries.
There are jobs out there, available for the taking, like those in the business process outsourcing and the knowledge process outsourcing industries, in the electronics and in the information and communication technology sectors. It’s just that there aren’t enough graduates to fill the demand for workers in these areas.
We need more engineers, more ICT grads, more people to go into the sciences where there are economic and employment opportunities, and less where there are a surplus of unemployed graduates.
This is not a revelation. Labor market imperfections and the lack of information about market supply and demand are issues that have been discussed and debated for so long. Solutions for these have been proposed, legislated and laid down as state policies.
When the Congressional Commission on Education or EDCOM, of which I was a member (as a senator from 1987 to 1992), submitted its findings to Congress, several of our policy recommendations were meant to address these very issues, like greater institutional collaboration between the industries with their respective chambers of commerce and the educational sector, or for the government to provide a labor-market information system. Of course, not all of our recommendations were translated into laws and policies, but the ones that were should be enough to make a dent on the jobs-skills mismatch problem. That is, if they are implemented properly.
For instance, we have, or at least we should have as mandated by law, a public employment service office in every province, key city or town; and one of the responsibilities of this office is to facilitate the exchange of labor market information between job seekers and employers. It should also establish a national manpower registry of skills needed to facilitate employment assistance.
Ideally, high school graduates can seek guidance in these government employment offices to find out what courses they should be taking in college to ensure the highest chances of employability. Ideally, even adults stuck in dead-end jobs or those without jobs can seek the help of these offices to change careers by acquiring new skills through government sponsored trainings. Ideally.
Like in the case of most laws and policies, it’s the implementation where the problem arises.
During my term in the senate, Congress enacted a system of free public high school education. We institutionalized financial assistance to private schools through R.A. 6728 or the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education. We established tuition fee supplements, the high school textbook assistance fund, an expansion of the Educational Service Contracting Scheme, the voucher system of the Private Education Student Financial Assistance, scholarship grants to top honor graduates from high school, an educational loan fund and a college faculty development fund, the Special Program for Employment of Students to help poor but deserving students. We had EDCOM. We expanded scholarships in science and technology. I was part of these reforms as sponsor and co-sponsor or as a member of the Senate committee that drafted these laws.
Yet, with all these laws, I would be the first to ask: what have we actually got to show for them? Our students in public schools are falling below national standards in the Sciences, in Math and English. Overall, there is a very low level of functional literacy among our high school graduates. And yes, our graduates are still not that employable.
For instance, in the BPO sector, one of the industries always direly in need of new workers, our graduates can barely make the grade. BPO companies are adding more jobs, but they complain only a few are qualified. Only 9 out of 100 applicants are able to pass the admission tests of the contact centers.
The results would be a lot brighter, had we put money and resources behind our education laws and policies, enough to ensure their effective implementation.