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Matching education with jobs

By educational attainment, 22.2 percent of our unemployed are college graduates, 12.6 percent are college undergraduates, and 33.3 percent are high school graduates. The total number of unemployed Pinoys is at 2.68 million. http://www.tradingeconomics.com/philippines/unemployment-rate

A little over 68 percent of unemployed Pinoys had some college or high school education. That over 22 percent of unemployed Pinoys have college degrees has to be an indication of something really wrong with our system. And if we didn’t have the OFW phenomenon, the number would be a lot higher.

One can very clearly see a horrible mismatch between the education our young people get and available jobs. A college diploma, at least the Philippine variety, is not worth the investment for a good number of our people.

The family carabao was sold for nothing. The family got into debt with the 5/6 usurers for nothing. Hopes and dreams for a better life quashed.

Doing something about this mismatch was the focus of the one day conference organized by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) I attended last week in Mactan, Cebu. It was apparently important enough to get the attendance of top level CEOs like Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Ramon del Rosario, Ed Chua of Shell, banker turned educator Gigi Montinola, DepEd Sec. Armin Luistro, Senators Sonny Angara and Bam Aquino, Fred Pascual president of UP, and the presidents of the various Ateneo schools nationwide among others.

Are parents wasting their hard earned money sending their kids to college? Are students wasting their time earning degrees that won’t give them a job after graduation? Is there some way by which the educational system can be tweaked to more or less guarantee a graduate a job?

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The academicians in the room pointed out it was not their role to train students for sure jobs after graduation. They said they are training students to think critically and creatively, skills student can use in any job anywhere. They are also teaching students skills like computer literacy, service orientation and fluency in English or good business communication. 

That may be true for top universities like UP and Ateneo. But for others that grant diplomas that supposedly certify the graduates to have passed certain standards for knowledge and skills, the sheepskin is often useless. Just look at those want ads specifying graduates from four or five top universities.

Because our poor are banking on education to escape poverty, it must lead to employment. Educators and employers must work closely in workforce development.

The business sector must get more involved in designing curricula. Business people and educators must work together on what to teach the students... how to graduate students with skills the business sector needs.

I pointed out the example in my workshop of the effort of IBM Philippines to develop curricula at the college level to give students skills in Big Data Analytics. I am familiar with this effort of Mariels Almeda-Winhoffer, the past country head of IBM here. She managed to convince CHED and a number of universities to get on board this project.

Mariels had been saying the big paying jobs today and in the future are in Big Data Analytics. She warned the low level call center jobs we have are not sustainable and easily lost with the fast pace of technological advances.

They have good paying jobs in Big Data Analytics available within IBM, but where are the qualified college graduates? We can be a global center for smarter analytics, Mariels kept on telling anyone who would listen, if only we train the people who will take on these jobs.

In less than two years, Mariels used the resources of IBM as well as local experts in the universities and CHED to recreate IT courses to incorporate the needed analytics skills. Mariels is happy with the cooperation of CHED and local universities and the first graduates should be available just about now.

Mariels was not about to waste time moaning about the problem. She took definite steps to get something done. It helped that she was away from the country for a couple of decades and didn’t have the fears of the locals in dealing with the bureaucracy. She showed how big business can work within our educational system to help bridge the education-job mismatch.

The conversations at the conference I attended last week were still on how to get it done. Mariels did it already. We spent the day convincing the convinced when we should have been talking turkey with specifics.

I sat in a workshop composed mostly of university presidents and there was this complaint about CHED not giving them enough leeway to innovate on their course curricula. CHED is a government bureaucracy eager to make its presence felt, the complaint goes, reducing the initiative of the more reputable colleges and universities to innovate.

Maybe, I said, it is because CHED is mandated to assure quality college education and there are just too many diploma mills around. Our educational system is so driven by the fad for the moment, for example nursing.

There was a time when anything could pretend to be a hospital and put up a nursing school. Yet, many of those schools couldn’t teach enough knowledge of nursing to enable graduates to pass the licensing examination. These schools were just interested in the tuition fees, a form of legal extortion. Worse, when the US market abruptly closed, we had a large surplus of nursing graduates with nowhere to go for jobs.

I can see the theoretical reason for CHED’s existence. What I can’t vouch for is CHED’s technical competence to accomplish its mandates. I also see the rationale for the K-12 program of DepEd, assuming they can carry it out as contemplated.

Not everyone needs to have a college degree. Many tech titans in Silicon Valley don’t have one. But it is ingrained in our culture that a college diploma is needed to assure one’s future. 

Vocational education is looked down upon, even by the poor. We aren’t like the Europeans who value a system where being in a vocational track also allows entry to manufacturers like BMW, VW, etc and compete for the top jobs.

Apprenticeship is allowed in European countries. The Dual Tech concept in Germany has proven its value. But our laws only provide for six months apprenticeship to prevent exploitation of new job entrants. Maybe an apprenticeship program under stricter supervision based on a curriculum is the way to go.

I have a feeling the jobs-skills mismatch is also due to inadequate career information for parents and high school graduates. There is a tendency to pick the most popular and easy courses, even if the job potentials are nil. Basta may diploma, ayos!

Disappointment follows. Parents expect the child to give a return on investment soon after graduation. But if the child took a college degree in mass communication, for instance, sorry na lang. The jobs are not there or doesn’t pay well. If the child took a maritime course in a fly by night school, the diploma isn’t worth anything. 

Having labor market intelligence and greater interaction between business and educators are great. But unless there is an effort to reach out to parents and students, the ultimate decision makers, nothing will improve.

CHED has to change its regulatory philosophy and give established institutions like the various Ateneo schools more freedom to innovate. But it has to be very strict with diploma mills that cheat parents and students of their dreams. Politicians often intrude in CHED’s work, interceding for diploma mills, and that’s when things go badly.

Perhaps CHED should start rating educational institutions according to the quality of specific courses and future job prospects. Or maybe this is something PBEd should do based on a set of criteria which would include the experience of the business sector. This will give parents and students a good basis for choosing what course and what school. It is only fair for them to know.

Close to 70 percent of our unemployed had some amount of college or high school education and that sounds like a crisis to me. That means, resources were wasted on their education and these are resources we simply cannot afford to waste.

This mismatch between education and jobs must end. If we have to get CHED to strike down college courses and close down substandard schools that produce the highest numbers of unemployed, we ought to do it.

Education is the best way to get out of poverty. But this can happen only if our people get the right education. Otherwise we are just fooling the most vulnerable.

It is good to see the private business sector ,through Philippine Business for Education, take an active role in bridging the education to jobs gap. Let us see good quick results soon.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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