Pulling together for workforce development

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THE Philippine Business for Education (PBED) has been an influential voice in educational policy in the country. It has brought together key leaders in business and industry, presidents of public and private universities and colleges, and public policy makers in unprecedented conversation. It has worked out a practicable consensus on some key educational challenges. It focused first on educational reform in basic education. Until recently the Philippines lagged behind the rest of the world. PBED was among the country’s more strident supporters of the K-to-12 reform. Though still a work in progress, K-to-12 has found a secure place in the country’s educational system through the Enhanced Basic Education Law (RA 10533) and its determined implementation under the leadership of Education Secretary Armin Luistro.

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PBED has also batted for educational reform in higher education. The PBED-mediated Manila Declaration of Philippine Higher Education of Aug 15, 2014 has declared higher education to be “an integral component in shaping citizens who participate in meaningful human, social, cultural development. When academic freedom is promoted and protected, it is able to generate new ideas and enhance the skills and talents of the graduates.”

The recognition of the importance of academic freedom is crucial in PBED’s success in getting the signatory presidents and administrators of both public and private HEIs to agree, among others, about what quality education is in this context. Where there is yet no universal consensus on the meaning of educational quality, the presidents declare quality education is “secured through the higher educational institutions” (HEIs’) verified achievement of government-set minimum standards, the further pursuit of academic excellence, the implementation of the HEIs vision and mission, and responsiveness to stakeholders.”

It has furthermore agreed in academic freedom to address the so-called mismatch between the supply of graduates and the demands of industry: “HEIs and industry must strive to harmonize the knowledge, skills and attributes of their graduates with the needs of industry and the economy in a humane society. To this end, HEIs must be willing to work with businesses, non-governmental organizations and industry and professional organizations.” Without allowing that the demands of industry coopt the Philippine educational agenda, the HEIs recognize working with industry and the economy as crucial to bringing about a humane society in the Philippines. HEIs must open up their activities in instruction, research, community service and institutional planning to greater responsiveness to their major stakeholders in industry and the economy. While the latter are not the only stakeholders in quality higher education, they are crucial stakeholders. Unemployment is worrisomely high in the awakening Philippine tiger economy, and one-third of the unemployed are college graduates.

Implementing these agreements is still a work in progress. While Information Technology and Business Processing Association of the Philippines (IPBAP) President Joemari Mercado reports significant success in IPBAP’s participation in curriculum development with certain SUCs and their successful production of graduates immediately employable, much still has to be worked out in understanding how industry can better influence curricular development and how academic institutions can generate educational products that better respond to industry. This involves industry more clearly stating what the learning outcomes and competencies it requires from academe, and academe opening up, first, to listen to these, and second, to work out the policy environment where responding to them is not only encouraged but rewarded without, third, abandoning its prior imperative to educate for the good of the individual and society. Admittedly, perceptions between the good of industry and the good of individuals and society differ.

It was in this context that PBED’s Summit III of Educators, Legislators and Government officials was convened on June 11 and focused specifically on a proposed Workforce Development Framework and Agenda. From its background paper: “Regional and national qualifications frameworks entail that stakeholders use labor market information proactively and that industry engages in education via sectoral councils.” In workforce development, however, it is not only the graduates of basic education or of higher education that are crucial, but various players moving in and out of the education and work streams at different times.

Thus, at Summit III four important concerns were addressed:

First, the need for a more integrated labor market intelligence (LMI) system. LMI includes “any quantitative or qualitative information and intelligence on the labor market that can assist stakeholders in making informed plan choices, and decisions related to business requirements, career planning and preparation, education and training offerings, job search, hiring, and governmental policy and workforce investment strategies. In the Philippines, there is no entity that systematically gathers and integrates data on labor gathered by such as the PSO, DOLE, TESDA, DepED, CHED, DTI, BSP, PRC, CSC and the private sector so that it is usable for industry and education. LMI must also relate to a functioning and stable Philippine Qualifications Framework that organizes levels of qualifications recognized within and beyond national boundaries.

Second, the need for sectoral councils. “Sectoral councils are partnership organizations that address skills development issues and implement solutions in key sectors of the economy. They are ideally comprised of representatives from industry, education and other professional sectors in order to provide multiple perspectives on sector specific issues.” It is through the sectoral councils that PBED sees industry impacting favorably on curricula relevant to industry. For instance, it was through the IBPAP that a curriculum appropriate to the needs of the information technology and business processing industry was worked out and implemented. Here a win-win situation was created between academic and industry.

Third, the need for a functioning apprenticeship system. “Apprenticeship is a form of training that allows students to acquire and master practical knowledge and competencies in their chosen fields.” Here, structures have yet to be worked out to assure the quality of the apprenticeship experience and to prevent exploitation of the apprenticeship labor.

Finally, the need for a governance structure for education that allows the flexibility and innovativeness that workforce development entails, but also reasonably regulates educational processes and programs through setting and enforcement of minimum standards for institutional and program operation, and, for higher education, the promotion of responsible academic freedom through quality assurance. In this context, government regulation that is dialogical and developmental is preferred to government regulation that is prescriptive and controlling.

PBED candidly declared that to get the desired workforce development truly underway, industry must buckle down and focus on its contribution to this scheme. But HEIs, public and private, must learn to work more closely with industry, without forfeiting their prior mandate to educate human beings for a society in the Philippines where all thrive together. Government, meanwhile, must allow a policy framework to evolve where educators are happy to contribute innovatively to workforce development and industry is happy to benefit from these contributions.

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