Graduation season: The link between education and employment

DIRECT FROMM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B Jimenez - The Freeman

The greatest irony under the administration of President B. Aquino III could be the amazing economic growth that the Philippines achieved in the last three years, while the country's unemployment rate steadily increased along with population and poverty incidence. People of average intelligence could not comprehend why the commendable growth of the Philippine economy has not translated into actual job creation for a steadily rising population. It could be said then, not without some measure of sarcasm, that we are a rich nation with too many jobless and poor citizens. In effect, this situation foments social instability as it fuels the anger and dissatisfaction of more and more Filipinos, while the taipans, tycoons, and business moguls continue to amass billions of dollars in wealth.  Is it the fate then of the Filipinos that they remain poor while their country's economy grew by leaps and bounds. It has the best economic growth but the worst unemployment record in Asia.

It is graduation season again, and this columnist has been invited as commencement speaker in the graduation ceremonies of Saint Paul University in Dumaguete City. The entire Philippine educational system is being reported to produce about eight hundred thousand of college graduates from both public and private schools annually. We are expected to explain to the Paulinian graduates the link between education and employment, the relationship between the knowledge and skills supposedly imbibed by each graduate, on the one hand, and the needs of the industry and employer sector. The graduates and their parents would be interested to know why many of our degree holders are not able to get quality employment immediately after finishing their college courses and passing their Board or Bar examinations.

To brandish the jargon of job mismatch would be to beg too many questions. It is not enough that we tell our people that our educational institutions are producing too many nurses, too many accountants, and perhaps too many lawyers, who could not be totally absorbed by the limited and even shrinking job markets. It is not sufficient to cite the fact that our universities and colleges are not producing enough competent technicians, pipe setters, welders, and electricians who are badly needed by our industries. Instead they turn out a lot of white collar graduates who dream to become company presidents, general managers and CEO's and COO's. They produce graduates with high academic credentials but are lacking in basic technical skills that are needed urgently by our manufacturing and service sectors. Whether you call it job mismatch or lack of alignment, there is a problem, a real big problem.

It is difficult to oversimplify and merely say that many (not all, of course) educational institutions are too profit-driven and are without any genuine concern for the true mission of an academic institution. There are many schools in our country that collect outrageously high tuition fees beyond the reach of the poor although very brilliant and promising young students. Just because they insert the brand INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL in their names, they collect very high tuition fees, even when the quality of their teaching and curriculum are not deserving of their names.  An outstanding exception is Saint Paul University, which is a PAASCU-accredited, Level III, ISO 9001-2000 certified, and has been granted a full autonomy status by the CHED. This is one center of excellence that truly lives its mission and corporate social responsibility.

And so, I shall face the thousands of graduates and shall tell them the truth. There are millions of educated unemployed in this country due to various reasons: First, parents and students choose their courses based on misplaced ambitions, and whimsical wishes, without really considering the realities in the labor markets. Second, many schools are not aligned with the industries in the choice of their academic programs and courses offered. Third, the government is not taking initiatives in aligning the educational and industrial sectors. Fourth, Filipinos are too fixated on finding jobs, rather than starting their own businesses and enterprises. Fifth, unemployment is driven not just by absence of jobs but also by our graduates' lack of sufficient skills and right attitudes. There are too many graduates that our labor markets do not need. Call it job mismatch or what not, it is a real problem.

The temptation is too strong to blame others, including our fates and our horoscopes.  We point fingers to all others, except to ourselves. The phenomenon of having a highly expanding economic growth whilst having a shrinking employment situation is the result of decades of neglect and the endemically distorted values of our people. It has nothing to do with tarot cards and feng shui. As Shakespeare aptly put it, "The fault, my dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings." What a pity.

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