OFWs not globally competitive

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CRISPIN R. ARANDA

LET’s figure it out.

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Because the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Philippine Statistics Authority and the BangkoSentral ng Pilipinashave put out separate sets of statistics for Overseas Filipino Workers, the OFW numbers vary by degrees.

However, let us use the POEA figures.

Overall, the total number of OFWs deployed had gone down in the last two years (2015 and 2016), at 2.447 and 2.240 million, respectively. While the other regions had decreased by more than a percentage point, Asia retained its position as the top region of destination and even increased its share of the total from 83.9 percent in 2014 to 85 percent a year later.

As explained last week, the great majority of OFWs—especially in Asia, which includes the Middle East—are associate professionals, trades and craft workers, sales and service workers, technicians, service and sales workers as well as those in the elementary occupations.

It is industry knowledge that Filipino professionals and tradespersons are not considered the equivalent of their foreign counterparts: they are therefore underemployed and underpaid.

Education and experience keep OFWs non-competitive

It was only last year that the Philippines adopted the K to 12 educational system. The present crop of OFWs has only had 10 years of primary and high school education. Those with bachelor degrees get an additional four years, still two years short of the current global standard.

Two of the most in-demand OFW occupations, for example—registered nurses and teachers—must take up additional courses to meet the standards of practice and competence of their Australian, Canadian, UK, or US counterparts.

New Zealand, however, considers the Philippines a comparable labor market and NZ has a list of educational institutions whose graduates are considered to have obtained the same level of education as their counterparts, provided they obtained their diplomas on or after a specific year.

At time of writing, the list of schools from the Philippines could be accessed through this link – https://onlineservices.immigration.govt.nz/opsmanual/45793.htm

Footnotes advise that where the bachelor’s degree, masters or doctorate is in nursing, teaching or education, and engineering, graduates of these specific fields must still obtain a suitable or positive assessment from the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) to determine a degree’s equivalency.

Australia’s Qualifications Framework (AQF), introduced in 1995, regulates and incorporates “the qualifications from each education and training sector into a single comprehensive national qualifications framework.”

New Zealand emphasizes that its qualifications framework (NZQF)— the heart of country’s education system—ensures that “all qualifications, both secondary and tertiary, listed on the NZQF come with an assurance of quality that is recognized and trusted worldwide.”

Such recognition and trust in the global arena is further enhanced by apprenticeship programs, made possible by a strong economy, participating industries and a responsible government.

For tradespersons, completion of an apprenticeship program is the key to a successful occupation and career. Australia and New Zealand have apprenticeship schemes that certify the competence, skills and ability of a tradesperson to perform a specific job within a certain level. Apprenticeship programs in the UK and the Commonwealth Nations (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) are joint undertakings between industries and schools. Not all industries offer apprenticeship opportunities; without an employer sponsor, a student cannot pursue apprenticeships.

To be clear, many entry-level jobs do not require an apprenticeship certificate, but then you are competing with the rest of the labor-entrant-crowd so if you cannot perform well, “you’re fired!”

There have been nascent undertakings between a few industries, for example, between Canada and the Philippines for certain trades such as the 2008 Skills Passport program which evaluated the language and technical competencies of applicants for the Saskatchewan Provincial Nomination Program and the Trades Foreign Workers from the Philippines. “Demonstration-based competency evaluations were developed in welding,construction trades and heavy-duty equipment maintenance occupations in two immigration markets critical to Saskatchewan – the Philippines and Ukraine”

The most popular equivalency scheme is the Live-in Caregiver program where graduates of a six-month TESDA-accredited course qualifies a Philippine applicant to apply and work as a caregiver in Canada.This program has ended and now caregivers must apply through the standard work permit program for all foreign workers.

Then there’s the Interprovincial Red Seal Program that sets the “national standards for certain trades that are common to most jurisdictions.”

PH still an apprentice
While the National Apprenticeship Act was enacted in 1957,this was later repealed by presidential decree. From its ashes rose the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) a merger of agencies in the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS).

To its credit, Tesda has its enterprise-based schemes which include the apprenticeship program, learnership program and the dual training system with the common objective to “meet the demand of the economy for trained manpower;establish a national apprenticeship program through the participation of employers, workers and government and non-government agencies; and establish apprenticeship standards for the protection of apprentices.”

All of the countries of intended migration need employers to make the apprenticeship program work. Schools and training centers on the other hand must level up their learning and competency standards to turn out graduates who can run with their global counterparts.

If the Philippines cannot as yet turn its back on deploying Filipino workers and professionals to ease unemployment and increase foreign exchange reserves, the government should ensure that the country’s education and qualifications framework is on a par with the countries of intended migration – temporary or otherwise.

Unfortunately, the Philippines’ six-year cycle of governance and the disdain for the programs of the previous administration prevent a continuity of program and policy development – each regime having its own pet projects and a new set of deep-lined pockets to fill.

Now, instead of winning the battle for competency and equivalency in education, skills and competence, we are deep into the drug war and peripheral swipe at corruption.

Go figure.

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