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Investing in and developing our workforce

opinion / Columnists
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Investing in and developing our workforce

/ 12:18 AM April 12, 2017

If our national priority is to make our economic growth as sustainable as possible, the wisdom of other societies tells us that it must be inclusive.

Inclusive growth doesn’t happen overnight, but it is helped along by smart planning and investment in our people and their working futures. Now that we have come to the end of this school year, it seems especially appropriate to take a second look at the importance of education in preparing Filipinos for economic changes coming down the road. To achieve inclusive economic growth, we’ll need to continually invest in developing the skills and capabilities of our workers.

A must-have future skill. With the advent of labor-saving technologies and the simultaneous restructuring of product and labor markets, the attitude of our labor force should be that of obtaining a must-have future skill. With this outlook, our workers will have a proactive stance in their lifelong development and, in the process, cope with the rising cost of living. This view is developed in a Stratbase ADR Institute special study by Dr. Vicente Paqueo and Dr. Aniceto Orbeta Jr. titled “Unlocking the Filipino People’s Potential in the Next Six Years and Beyond.”

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Our labor force is confronted with challenges to its competitiveness, adaptability, and flexibility amid changing economic demands. These challenges have impacts on the economy, on education and skills development, on workers’ protections, and on institutional capacity.

The first issue concerns the legal minimum wages. While ostensibly improving the pay of some workers, the policy has hurt the job prospects of more disadvantaged workers in the labor force. Relaxing labor regulations, on wages as well as on contractualization, would have a greater effect on raising the level of employment.

Education and skills development represent the second issue. Our workers need help to not only receive more education but appropriate education as well. To arrest unemployment and underemployment, our workers need to be trained in the skills that will be needed when they graduate and also keep them flexible for the future.

Education must be made accessible at all levels even as we work to ensure the quality of this education and embark on early human capital development. Moreover, in a situation where there is chronic inequality, development interventions must come alongside improvements in education and labor policy. If the lack of money is a barrier to education, then direct financial assistance must maintain its role in our human capital development.

As learning institutions, the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, and Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) must work together to ensure that they can not only meet industry demands but also foster a love for lifelong learning. In the words of Paqueo and Orbeta, “Institutions must adapt to the evolving reality as current norms and regulations become obsolete.”

In addition to having improved and more competitive basic, technical-vocational, and higher education, having an inculcated appreciation for lifelong learning will position our workers to view their formal education as an intermediate step in a longer process of enhancing their skill sets. By helping them adapt to changing demands, this mindset will keep our workers competitive and flexible.

Role of governance. The government has a critical role in addressing these challenges. The issues of labor contractualization, legal minimum wages, open access to education, and social protection mechanisms will all be double-edged swords if not handled with care. A judicious attitude and a careful balancing act is what is needed from the Duterte administration in crafting a cohesive policy for the strategic development of our workforce.

As difficult as the situation may be, we should not shy away from the challenge. Ultimately, what’s at stake is continued and inclusive economic growth. As investments in human capital development are reaped in decades, not single years, it is all the more important that our government work quickly to achieve lasting progress. To paraphrase our President, people must be ready for the change that is coming.

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Dindo Manhit is president of Stratbase ADR Institute.

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TAGS: contractualization, economic growth, economy, employment, opinion, work, Workforce
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