Enhancing youth employability is a business mission

By Rene E. Ofreneo – November 29, 2017

“Employability” refers to the general readiness of workers, the young labor entrants in particular, to participate in a dynamic labor market. This means having a workforce with the right education, skills, know-how, attitudes and capacity to learn new trades or competencies needed by the new emerging industries as well as by the old existing ones. These skills, capacities and competencies are what enable workers to secure and retain a job, progress at work, secure another job and/or shift to another form of employment if she/he so wishes or when she/he has been laid off.

Enhancing employability, therefore, covers all those programs that help prime or ‘tool’ young (and other) people to enter and remain in the labor market, either as wage earners or self-employed entrepreneurs. Hence, employability is inextricably linked to the education, skills and related human resource development services extended by society to its workforce.

Employability is also a defining factor in the mismatches occurring in the labor market. Corporations, big and small, often complain about their inability to acquire the services of workers whose skills and competencies ‘fit’ the available jobs. This is immediately evident in the thick job notices advertised in the Sunday issues of the country’s leading newspapers. Inevitably, this lack of fit aggravates the nation’s unemployment woes as well as industry’s low level of productivity.

In this context, youth employability is clearly a central concern for the business community. Having a ready pool of young, capable and productive workers whose education, skills, know-how, attitudes and capacities fit the requirements of an evolving economy is part of every nation’s competitiveness arsenal.

Additionally, the ability of the youth to find jobs and fit into the labor market is a major determinant of social and economic stability in any society.  In fact, having a skilled workforce is one way of ending the never-ending industrial relations debates on the “endo” system, for most of the so-called “endos” are the semi-skilled replaceable workers.

Yet, the participation of the Philippine business community in boosting or enhancing the employability of the country’s workforce leaves much to be desired. Corporations often undertake limited skills and training activities, mainly or solely to satisfy or meet their own business requirements and profit mission. They rarely go beyond these limited company-focused skills and training programs in order to contribute to the broader task of upgrading the nation’s labor force.

Also, there is also a great deal of ambivalence among firms in the conduct of any corporate-led skills training.  First, it is always considered a cost despite corporate rhetorics that training is an investment.  And the cost is seen as doubly painful if the trainee leaves the company in favor of greener pastures elsewhere (within or outside the country) long before the establishment is able to recover the cost of training.  The lack of sustained and value-adding training among firms is one reason why some companies do not graduate at a higher level of industrial development, which, in turn, is one reason why the Philippines is being left behind in Asia’s march towards industrialization.

But back to the skills training issue.  In general, the training function is considered a “public good”, the production of which is the primary concern of the government, meaning of the national education and skills development system supervised by the State. Even the limited and relatively inexpensive task of providing the educational and skills development institutions with the ‘market signals’ needed in guiding curriculum design, course planning and the likes is seldom done.  CEOs and business leaders rarely sit down with officials of universities, colleges and technical-vocational schools to discuss emerging education and skills issues and challenges in the labor market.

This is why the proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd) to form a government-industry-education (GIE) council – at the national and regional levels — is extremely important. The point is that there is no way the Philippines can aspire to become competitive without its industry and the education/skills service providers succeeding in becoming better organized in setting strategic directions and targets on how the skills and talents of the youth can be honed and sharpened.  The best education and training system is one that is industry-led or industry-focused, meaning business and industry give ‘signals’ on those skills that are in demand so that the educational institutions can design courses to meet that demand.

Among the immediate tasks of the would-be GIE body is how to identify education champions within or among industries.  Through these champions, the GIE should be able to inculcate the idea that enhancing youth employability is a joint responsibility of government, education institutions and the business community.

DepEd should have no problem looking for these education champions from the ranks of industry.  For example, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) has been, for decades, donating pre-fabricated elementary and secondary school houses in poor communities throughout the country.  A number of taipans have also been buying up schools and modernizing/expanding them, e.g., Tan (UE), Yuchengco (Mapua) and Sy (NU).  The Ayala Foundation Inc. (AFI) maintains the Ayala Museum and the Filipinas Heritage Foundation, which are popular education tour destinations among school children.

The country’s leading skills development institutes also happen to be those set up and managed by some big corporations. These include the Kananga EDC Institute of Technology (KEITECH) in Leyte, Meralco Foundation (a pioneer in dual-tech training) and Yazaki-Torres’ Barangay Assistance Training Program  (BATP), which has benefited several towns in Batangas.  Microsoft also had a cooperation program with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), which provides ICT literacy training for the ‘underserved and digitally excluded’ OFWs and families.

The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) has also undertaken a number of skills development forums with the support of the International Labor Organization (ILO).  ECOP and ILO have been articulating the importance of ILO Convention 142, which “requires members to establish and develop open, flexible and complementary systems of general, technical and vocational education” that are linked with youth employment.  Their battle cry: “Enhancing youth employment is a business mission”.

On the whole, therefore, GIE should have no problem identifying industry champions at the national and regional levels.  Together with these champions, DepEd can develop a system of industry consultation, dialogue, knowledge sharing and coordination-partnership in the design and conduct of relevant educational programs that enhance the employability of the young labor force in the context of the socio-economic development needs of the country.

This article was published at https://businessmirror.com.ph/enhancing-youth-employability-is-a-business-mission/

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