• Are OFWs no longer in demand or competitive?

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    CRISPIN R. ARANDA

    MIGRATION practitioners and stakeholders have this sinking feeling that overseas Filipinos—overseas Filipino workers (OFW) mainly—are losing their competitive edge in the world stage.

    The Philippines—long esteemed as the great example of labor and migrant mobility—is said to have been left behind in the international arena seeking to formulate and establish a global migration policy.

    The dialectics of migration shows that both external and internal factors are causing this dilemma.

    The rise of a neo-nationalist policy in Europe brought about by the mass movement of migrants and refugees; the US President and the Republican Party’s claim about a deluge of criminals, rapists and drug lords from Mexico; the Australia and New Zealand First policies emulating that of Donald Trump have redefined migrants as job-snatchers and benefits/welfare program smoochers.

    Keep them out or make it hard for them to come in, is now a rallying cry – even in the Middle East, especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with its Saudization policy.

    In addition, the decline in oil prices that resulted in a reduction or suspension of projects requiring foreign skilled workers, the threat of terrorism and constant attacks of Islamist extremists which resulted in the isolation of Qatar by the major oil-producing nations have all contributed to reduced manpower requests from traditional employers and country destinations.

    Internally, OFWs are now older and overqualified to find decent, good paying jobs at home. The present crop of professionals and skilled workers are handicapped by an educational set-up that is disconnected from the economic system, producing graduates that are not on a par with their counterparts overseas, and a government that changes priorities and direction every six years, leaving professionals and skilled workers to fend for themselves.

    The majority of OFWs are trades and service workers, associate professionals, technicians and technologists. These occupations do not require a college diploma, but at least sufficient academic grounding (two years in college or completing a tech-voc course) and acquiring competencies that meet the requirement not only of the local industries but overseas employers as well.

    Besides, overseas Filipinos and their remittances are the ones hailed as New Heroes. The local workers on the other hand compete for employment scraps at home, for jobs paying the highest minimum wage of P491 daily in Metro Manila, according to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC).

    OFWs remain low-skilled
    The 2016 figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) indicate that some one million OFWs are not professionals or managers. In fact, the associate professionals, trades and craft workers, sales and service workers, technicians, service and sales workers comprise almost half of all OFWs deployed in that year—1,090,415 from a total of 2,185,000.

    If OFWs in the elementary occupations are included, then OFWs in the middle- to low-skilled work categories keep the economy afloat.

    Apparently, the level of skills mismatch borne out of a disjointed education/qualification framework and absence of responsive government programs to elevate the skill levels of those in the labor force fuel the exodus of OFWs from the various regions of the country.

    If our mid-level and less-skilled workers are to be repatriated—by the host countries or due to economic and political turmoil—where could our OFWs work, or be welcomed as the competitive equivalent of their counterparts?

    Even our professionals—licensed registered nurses as the prime example — cannot practice their profession in most of the country-destinations for work or permanent residency. At the other end of the labor spectrum, our skilled trade workers are prohibited from pursuing their occupations unless they meet the competency assessment of the specific regulatory authorities of the trade.

    In Canada, tradespeople must usually be registered or must meet the provincial and territorial trade certification under the Red Seal program “established to create national standards for certain trades that are common to most jurisdictions. Trades approved for Red Seal status are called “designated Red Seal trades.” The Red Seal program and the designation of trades as Red Seal is the responsibility of the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA).”

    There are immediate stopgap solutions, but for a long-term strategy that will benefit not just OFWs but the Philippines as well, bringing our education system at par with that of the receiving country and a renewed and sustained cooperation between government and business is required.

    Next week: How to meet global standards of education and skill competency

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