How competitive is the Filipino workforce?
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2020 - 12:00am

In this corner two weeks ago, I wrote about the state of Philippine education and how our 15-year-old children measure up against 79 other nationalities in math, science and reading. For those who missed that piece, you will be distraught to know that Filipino children came out dead last among its international peers, according to the evaluation of the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA). This suggests that our children are among the least learned and future-ready on the planet.

This has lead me to look into the Filipino workforce. How do our working professionals compare with their counterparts abroad in terms of intelligence, competence and availability.

As we all know, having a skilled and educated workforce is fundamental to having a competitive economy. The higher the talent quotient, the higher the likelihood of achieving long term national prosperity. This is especially true today with disruptive technologies changing the way we live and work.

Every year, Switzerland’s Institute of Management and Development (IMD) undertakes a global survey to determine how countries rank in terms of workforce talent. Countries are evaluated based on three categories: “Investment and Development” or the amount of resources invested by a country to cultivate home grown talent; “Appeal,” or the extent by which a country is able to attract talent from abroad; and “Readiness,” which quantifies the quality of skills that are available in a country.

Sixty-three countries were appraised last year. Information on the Philippines was gathered by no less than the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), IMD’s local partner.

The good news is that the Philippines posted one of the greatest improvements in the ranking, jumping six notches to 49th place in 2019 from 55th place in 2018. It is preceded by Chile, Russia and Argentina and succeeded by South Africa, Jordan and Bulgaria.

However, the country was last among ASEAN-6 as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand took the 10th, 22nd, 41st, and 43rd spot, respectively. Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden topped the rankings.

In the first category, which is Investment and Development of talent, the country was ranked at a pathetic 61st place, or third to the last. Education, again, proved to be the country’s Achilles heel.

The study showed that the Philippine government spends an average of $376 per pupil per year, which is third to the lowest among all the countries evaluated. Too, our student-teacher ratio is 5th to the lowest at 29.08 students for every one teacher. For context, Singapore invests $12,890 per pupil per year and maintains a teacher-student ratio of 14.69. No surprise, Singaporean students are classified as the second most intelligent in the world.

With poor educational standards, graduates from the Philippines are said to be among the least equipped in terms of stock knowledge, critical thinking and technical skills.

The Philippines figured at the middle pack (28th out of 63) in as far as apprenticeship programs and employee trainings are concerned. This tells us that talent development within private companies is relatively competitive.

In terms of “appeal” or the country’s capacity to attract talent from abroad, the Philippines scored relatively well at 31st position. Favorable income tax rates and affordable cost of living put the country on the top 15 percentile. Moreover, Filipino enterprises are said to have good programs for employee motivation and talent retention. Remuneration is competitive for senior managers but below-par for skilled professionals.

On the negative side, pollution and a poor justice system are turn-offs for expats working in the Philippines. All things considered, the country figured in the upper 50% in as far as attractiveness to foreign expatriates are concerned. It is said to have the same level of appeal as Thailand and Portugal.

Overall quality of life is at the same level as South Africa and Mexico.

The country scored well in “readiness,” or the availability of good talent in the country. The Philippines rank 26th in this category. We are third in the world in terms of availability of skilled labor and in the top 20 in as far as language skills, number of scientists and labor force growth is concerned.

Our workforce is in the middle of the pack in terms of having international experience, financial savvy and advanced management education. But overall, our senior managers figure among the top 30 percentile in terms of competence.

Again, pulling down our standing is our college education system. The evaluation revealed that the curricula of our universities no longer address the needs of an emerging economy in the digital age. In addition, our universities are extremely poor in internationalization. The opportunity for foreign students to study in the Philippines (and vice versa) remains one of the lowest in the world. There are only .14 foreign students, per 100 pupils.

If not for our abysmally low ranking in government’s spending per student, teacher to student ratio and outdated college curricula, the Philippines could have figured in the top 50 percentile of the global ranking, within the vicinity of Malaysia.

The government has appropriated 521.35 billion to the Department of Education in this year’s national budget, the highest among all departments. Unfortunately, it still falls short. Considering that our student body consist of 27.2 million pupils, simple mathematics tells us that spending per pupil remains constant at about $370 per pupil. There is almost no change from 2019.

Congress argues that they increased the Dep’Ed’s budget by P20 billion this year. However, this is off-set by the ever growing number of students.

Various studies and indices show that education is the country’s weakest link. It is so serious that it can negate the favorable factors working to our favor including our demographic advantage, large population and wealth in natural resources. Without competitive talent, we are destined to squander the opportunities that lie before us.

For us to make a real impact in our educational system, our investment per student must increase to $500 per student. Experts say that this is enough to make an impact on the readiness of our students when they join the workforce. This calls for an additional appropriation of P184 billion for the DepEd.

The time has come for government to act with urgency on the state of our educational systems.

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