Unemployment, technology, jobs and the division of labor

Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

There are not enough jobs in the Philippines. That is a well known and accepted fact, albeit there are many dreams and a trail of unfulfilled promises of creating more.

By my observation—there is a lot of contrived job creation. Security guards, for example, are everywhere and are something you don’t see in other countries and in very many cases the work that they do is fairly meaningless and must be excruciatingly unsatisfying other than for the prospect of what is often a fairly minimal pay packet. In a job like that the employer has to be fairly creative in devising things for the employees to do in order to avoid total boredom—the prospect of their being involved in some form of security incident even in the lawless Philippines being fairly remote. So they are instructed to stop people smoking, parking in the wrong places, carefully checking the details of people wanting to enter buildings, and writing down fairly useless information in record books. The question is, are all these jobs really necessary or are they some sort of weird attempt at a distribution of wealth and a way of boosting employment numbers?

The work of traffic aides is another type of negative societal contribution. Traffic management in Metro Manila is a total disaster with too many vehicles and not enough roads. Undoubtedly there are places where professional traffic aide services are essential [such as at the Dona Soledad /SLEX intersection in Bicutan]but there are vast numbers of other places where the aides are posted but do no more than interrupt and disrupt what are otherwise efficient traffic flows. Is this yet another contrived job creation scheme in action?

But above both examples the greatest job creation device is the red tape and bureaucracy, which not only infests government but also the private sector—try buying an item in Anson’s or most other appliance shops and just count the number of activities and people involved in any straightforward purchase transaction. The effective use of technology does not seem yet to have fully penetrated either government or parts of the private sector. Great piles of dusty old files still occupy shelves in government offices, requiring people to actually spend time sorting out the papers while other people wait around for them to be found, after having been standing in line for probably a long time. The ubiquitous “requirements” that national advertisement of mistrust, occupy enormous amounts of time in gathering the necessary pieces of paper, getting things notarized and chasing back and forth to various offices through the traffic and the gauntlet of security guards and the “getting in to the building” procedures.

Now it would not surprise me if some readers of this piece would accuse me of taking a negative view about the Philippines. But I am not. The points made are, indeed, criticisms, but my intention is to highlight inefficiencies that are caused, perhaps, by a conscious effort to mask the real employment situation. Although on the face of it the unemployment statistics are bad, if you were to do a job quality evaluation or a job necessity study it would expose a far worse situation than the official statistics indicate. In turn, this makes a stronger case of the critical necessity for investment to create jobs that require real skills and education, in order to establish and sustain a technologically more advanced nation, as what happened in Ireland in the 1980s/90s and is happening in China now. Domestic investment in shopping malls, condominiums and buildings to house the BPO sector does little for developing higher technology skills or for increasing exports of manufactured goods.

But the local investment market is unlikely to see the benefit of such higher technological manufacturing investment because they “do ok” the way things are and the inherent inefficiencies of the way things operate maintain a compliant consumer market. To develop a requirement for a more skilled manufacturing workforce is to create a need to retain and nurture those higher skilled and higher paid workers and creates a dependency on the skills that they possess, giving them real bargaining power.

So in order to advance, opportunity needs to be created and this can only be done by investment requiring a change of the labor mix to be weighted more toward real skills. There would be fewer security guards, fewer traffic aides and less people whose purpose it is in life to shuffle often fairly meaningless pieces of paper. There would be fewer watchers to tell you what you can’t do, technology would be forced to replace the people shuffling the dusty pieces of paper, the “requirements” would reduce and traffic would flow better, jobs would be more fulfilling and the workforce better motivated . . . “Bag packing time” would become a thing of the past.

Alas, it is a dream but wouldn’t it be great if it could become even partly real . . . ?

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com


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