Poor regard for tech-vocational education
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - May 7, 2019 - 12:00am

When the President signed into law the proposed Tulong Trabaho Act in late February this year, images of the past scandal involving the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) briefly flashed in our minds.

Still fresh in our minds is a Commission on Audit (COA) report on TESDA released in 2013 that highlighted a number of questionable payments to 11 technical vocational institutions (TVIs) found to have overpriced tuition fees or shortened training schedules.

It was during the time when the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), also known as pork barrel, was still in existence, and where 19 legislators were implicated in the TESDA anomalies, mainly for having supported the questionable TVIs.

With billions of pesos made available to TESDA in recent years, either through the national government, the pork barrel system, or donations, the COA not only revealed “non-compliance” to TESDA training standards, but even the presence of “ghost” students.

While the pork barrel scandal still rings loud in our consciousness, the PDAF is no longer at the center of today’s political corruption schemes after the Supreme Court declared its unconstitution on Nov. 19, 2013.

Tulong Trabaho

Five years after PDAF and the 2013 COA report on TESDA, the government’s push to promote technical vocational learning through TVIs continues, albeit with more transparency, accountability, and new standards.

The Tulong Trabaho Act, or Republic Act 11230, supports the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (UAQTEA), more popularly known for its provision of free tuition fees in state universities and colleges, as well as technical-vocation education and training (TVET), that was signed into law in 2017.

The Tulong Trabaho law will have its own funds to ensure that special training programs (STPs) that will be identified through a Philippine Labor Force Competencies Competitiveness Program will be able to attract workers through the provision of free tuition and miscellaneous fees.

Close coordination with industry boards

STPs will be closely coordinated with industry boards or bodies to respond to the continuing discrepancies in job skill requirements by employers and job skill levels and competencies of those seeking jobs and job promotions. It will also attempt to improve the low employability of TVET certification holders with improved skill levels fit for higher paying jobs.

The law also recognizes the emergence of artificial intelligence in the workplace by constantly improving on TVET programs consistent with global standards.

The law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) are being drafted, and consultations with industry boards are ongoing. Hopefully, a meaningful IRR will be able to address the problems of job mismatches, but more so, the availability of training facilities for specialized skills.

Largest learning network

TESDA can be considered as the largest learning network for Filipinos in the country, overseeing the services of more than 7,200 institutions, of which over 60 percent belong to the private sector the remaining in public sector.

Last year, TESDA graduated in excess of two million students, majority of them undergraduates who chose not to pursue higher education. A large part of the TESDA graduates were from community-based short courses.

For its operations, TESDA draws funds from the national government, but also receives donations from other sources. Last year, it was given an increased budget of P7 billion in recognition of the UAQTEA’s provision to provide free tuition for technology vocational students in state universities and colleges and other designated schools.

Low value for tech-voc education

Yet, for all its responsibilities and expanded coverage, there remains a poor regard for tech-vocational education and certifications – particularly at the early levels – given by TESDA. These are often poorly regarded to have significant value.

In 2004, TESDA institutionalized a ladder approach to learning that allowed its graduates to use TVET credits when pursuing higher education. In reality, however, majority of TESDA graduates still choose short courses.

Even with the Ladderized Education Act of 2014, only a minority aspire to pursue higher skill levels, which partly explains the predominance of entry level training courses offered by private schools, and the perennial problem of underutilization of government funds assigned to TESDA.

Consequently, too, only a handful of schools offer a full suite of skills that lead to a mastery of the chosen technical-vocational education. This was highlighted by the recent spurt in skilled labor demand in the construction industry as the government’s Build Build Build program escalated.

Industry linkages

A more recent trend supporting the need of industry for qualified manpower has been the growing number of cooperation agreements inked by TESDA with companies that have become impatient over the government’s inability to supply better skilled labor.

In the construction industry, for example, companies like Aboitiz Construction have partnered with TESDA to fill up a high demand of 200,000 workers with construction-related higher skill levels, like welding, masonry, scaffolding, and heavy equipment operations.

In spite of all the resources being mobilized by the national government to encourage technical vocational learning through the decades, no other formula seems to work as best as when the concerned stakeholders in the private sector galvanize to act.

Industries that partner with TESDA are capable of providing facilities, as well as trainers and assessors, where interested TVET graduates of entry level skills may find better-paying jobs.

As they say, there is no better incentive for people to pursue higher education – or in this case, higher skill levels – than when there is demand. Perhaps, as the country embraces further industrialization in the future to sustain economic growth, TESDA will be ready to become a true guardian of technology vocational learning.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

TECHNICAL EDUCATION AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY TULONG TRABAHO ACT
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