Filipinos untrained, unaware of skills most in demand
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2019 - 12:00am

What has TESDA been doing all these years? That question was first in everyone’s mind when President Duterte talked about a shortage of skilled workers. The role of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority is to produce not only able but also apt workers. That is, it must train workers well – in skills that are in demand, to direct trainees into those fields.

Duterte rued that lack of master electricians, master carpenters, and master plumbers is delaying “Build, Build, Build” projects. Most such craftsmen no longer are in the Philippines but in the Middle East, he noted. Meaning, the best construction workers are in well-paying jobs overseas, thanks to experience and probably TESDA training. Yet the infrastructure boom there is over and has shifted to maintenance. Employment of builders has tapered off. Most have returned and retired early, raising ducks or running tricycle fleets. TESDA has not churned out second-liners to take over vacancies where construction is now booming – in the homeland. Millions are un- and underemployed.

Private enterprises are striving to fill the void. “Even [infrastructures tycoon Manuel V.] Pangilinan goes to the Middle East to convince the [craftsmen] to come home with offers of higher wages,” Duterte said. Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific Group is into rail and highways development, high-rises, telecoms, energy and power, among other lines. Ever expanding, it needs to entice technicians in order to stay ahead. Stiff competitors are San Miguel Holdings, Ayala Corp., Aboitiz Group, Gokongwei Group, and Filinvest Development Corp.

Interestingly, even Jollibee food and restaurant chain recruits store managers “from abroad”. Long had it noticed that numerous shops in malls in the Gulf States are run by Filipinos. Knowing them to be hard-working, trustworthy and experienced, Jollibee pirates them for domestic jobs as outlet bosses.

Among the first to feel the shortage of masters was R.G. Simbulan and Partners, the largest building fit-out contractor in Southeast Asia. Its line is to finish the interiors and furnish hotel and condo constructions. To ensure a stable of ace carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters and tilers, it regularized over a hundred of them. A thousand more workers are given steady, no longer seasonal, placements. Pay scales are higher, plus food and lodgings at worksites. That way, president-CEO Renato G. Simbulan was able to expand overseas. His Simbulan Industries makes pre-fab modules: cabinetry, doors and jambs, cornices and baseboards, mechanical-electrical-plumbing fixtures, and furniture. Those too require technical skills.

Simbulan cannot rely solely on TESDA for manpower needs. “There’s an unsolved jobs mismatch,” he says. Everyone’s going into hotel-restaurant management, where only the experienced land managerial positions. Butchers, plumbers, and electricians are employable anytime, anywhere. Graduates of trade schools and TESDA are not what constructions need most.

Simbulan trains promising recruits on-site and in-classroom. Older hires are transformed into multi-skilled, so that carpenters can turn into painters or electricians, depending on the finishing stage. In-house training, even of managers and supervisors, assures Simbulan of each employee’s proficiency. One of his company’s visions is skills education. He shares his experiences with fellows at the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Duterte’s first instinct too was to ask TESDA to look into the shortage of qualified workers that the Cabinet discussed. The agency was among the beneficiaries of the free-college program that began last year. At least P2 billion was granted for its scholarships in vocational-technical fields.

“Build, Build, Build” is supposed to direct P8 to P9 trillion in infrastructure investments in 2017-2022. Seventy-five projects are prioritized: four seaports, six airports, nine railways, three bus rapid transits, 32 highways and bridges, four energy facilities, ten waterworks, five flood controls, and three redevelopments.

Each has the potential to spur other businesses: construction supply, tools, signage, electrical and electronic gadgetry, canteens, even uniforms. In those lines too TESDA has to fill in vacancies. Filipinos need not turn to the laziest, riskiest trades: drugs and flesh.

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Filipinos strongly view how the drug war should be and is being waged. Ninety-five percent say it is important for narco-suspects to be captured alive. And 87 percent say the police consider it important to catch them alive. Publicized last week, the stats emerged in the Dec. 2018 survey of the Social Weather Stations.

The figures mirrored the SWS’ survey on the same issue in June 2018. Ninety-five percent also said then that it was important to take in the suspects alive, and 86 percent said the cops deemed it important to do so.

Those may reflect several beliefs. One is adherence to due process – that suspects be booked and tried in court, for rehab or imprisonment. Another is empathy with families of the 4,500 killed by police and 23,000 reportedly by vigilantes since July 2016. Yet another is fear that a family member might be slain, given that there could be as many as seven million addicts, mostly pushers as well. And there’s also sense of relief, since the 4,500 fatalities in police operations are but three percent of those captured alive.

Drugs must be eliminated, in the right way and least cost to lives. The police are perceived to be doing it right.

Still urgently needed is the building of more halfway- and jailhouses to separate the users from the pushers.

 To such constructions must go part of the P305-billion congressional pork barrel illegally inserted in the 2019 national budget.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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