ANOTHER broadsheet reported on Aug. 10, 2022 that "... more senior citizens have ventured back to the job market due to the harder times wrought by the high prices of food and other basic services."

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan allegedly "urged the private sector to provide senior citizens with the opportunities and training so they could adapt to potential employment, especially in the digital space and in agriculture."

PH demographics

I have mixed feelings about this issue. First, I share the sentiment of Secretary Balisacan who believes in the capacity of the senior citizens to continue contributing to economic development by making themselves productive.

As I write, the Worldometer data showed that the Philippines has a population of 112,762,400 — and counting. As of 2020, the age distribution of the population was: ages 0-14 – 30.04 percent; ages 15-64 – 64.55 percent; and ages 65 and above – 5.51 percent. The ages 15-64 category is the productive age, but it is where unemployment rate is the highest.

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National unemployment rate is around 6 percent among Filipinos actively seeking jobs. But youth unemployment is more than twice the national average.

Senior citizens at work

Retired senior citizens have skills and experience and can rejoin the workforce. They also have a strong work ethic, stay more focused on the job, are more reliable and take fewer days off. This is contrary to the impression that older employees are sickly. Many older employees are team players and can thrive in a multigenerational workforce. Best of all, they have a network of allies built over the years, and the knowledge of the business that many young upstarts don't have. Many senior citizens at work were able to overcome the so-called technology gap through training. Younger employees also learn from older and wiser employees. The value of assimilation and osmosis is incalculable but does not appear in the balance sheet.

However, there are myths and half-truths that deter many employers from getting senior citizens back into the mainstream employment. One myth says, "You cannot teach an old dog new tricks." Another is that they demand higher pay and benefits. Surprisingly, some seniors want to work more out of passion than due to the compensation.

Possible downside

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos turn 15 and join the workforce; more than half a million more graduate from senior high school and college. They automatically form part of the workforce but are not necessarily classified as unemployed. To be considered unemployed, they must be jobless, actively seeking work and are available to take a job.

Youth unemployment is compounded by a bigger problem — the NEET or Not in Employment, Education or Training. Around the world, 1 in 5 young people have NEET status. The NEETs are not considered jobless. In fact, some perform unpaid work, especially young girls doing household chores or manning the family's small sari-sari store.

Millions of young Filipinos need jobs, perhaps more than the senior citizens. I suggest that youth employment should be prioritized, but qualified seniors should also be hired. Youth in the NEET category, the unemployed youth, the underemployed youth and those in vulnerable employment will likely continue to suffer from poverty, unless they find decent jobs. Poverty-related experiences in their young life can have scarring effects, including poor employment prospects and lower earning potential later in their lives.

Arresting youth unemployment

Youth unemployment is a serious global problem. Among the factors contributory to this sad state is the utter lack of job opportunities, barriers to entering the labor market, limited qualification for current jobs, ever-changing skills requirements dictated by the market, and the size of the population competing for jobs. In 2020, the ILO estimated some 1.3 billion youth, between ages 15 and 24, to be unemployed worldwide.

While the Philippine situation is not as worrisome as those in Africa, the pattern of youth unemployment and underemployment seem to be the same. The presence of highly qualified senior citizens could further jeopardize the chances of the youth for better, more and decent jobs.

Here are some of the recommendations that I have made in some earlier fora, or I have written in one paper or another in the past. These are still relevant to the times:

– Focus on both sides of the employment equation. Many of the initiatives to create employment are mostly on the supply side — ensuring the availability of qualified job applicants, through education and training. The number of initiatives is not the problem; it is the quality of the interventions that should improve, including addressing the jobs-skills mismatch. Meanwhile, policies for attracting and sustaining investments, both domestic and foreign, should be in place to proper job creation and preservation.

– Align college/technical education with industry demand. Like it or not, the industry is the customer of the educational system. Let the education system align itself to the customer's need and not force the customer to buy its products.

– Stronger industry-academe linkages. Due to such change drivers as technology, demographics, climate change, supply chain disruptions and the ever-changing ways of doing business, it has become more difficult for Business to predict the skills required by the market over the long-term. Worse, college curriculum cannot be changed once it is started in the first year. By graduation time, some of the knowledge and skills learned in schooling could be rendered irrelevant by technology and market changes. Business must help the Academe understand their needs for skills, and the Academe must have more flexibility to adjust their curricula and methodology accordingly.

– Improve the internship experience of students. Revisit the 200-hour OJT (on-the-job) concept, and institute a serious internship programs of at least six months where students can develop real workplace skills and attitudes, beyond mixing coffee, document copying and running errands in large offices. The best form of internship is enterprise-based and should help the NEET youth or the possible new entrants into the world of work. But the enterprise must have the say in the internship experience, without heavy regulation, threats of penalty or intervention of some non-entities.

– Incentivize learning and employment. Regulatory bodies should shift from too much regulation to development and provision of incentives to players for job creation. Learners who excel should be rewarded with decent jobs. Incentives, tax rebates and other forms of rewards should be granted to schools with quality graduates. Enterprises that provide more employment to the youth and the seniors must also be given similar rewards.

Actually, we don't have to choose who should get the jobs. There are roles best suited for either the senior citizens or the youth. Complementation, not competition!

Laura Jane Addams was an American settlement activist, reformer, social worker and author. She once said, "Of all aspects of social misery, nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment."

Ernie Cecilia is the chairman of the Human Capital Committee and the Publication Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham); chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines' (ECOP's) TWG on Labor Policy and Social Issues; and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He can be reached at [email protected]