Employment czar

Many challenges confront the local employment sector, including a skills mismatch that President Aquino pointed out in reaction to criticisms about high unemployment under his administration. “Jobs have always been available, but job applicants have not been able to provide the skills required for employment,” he said. To prove his point, the President cited data from the government website showing that job postings had risen to 230,000 from only 40,000 when he assumed office in June 2010, and that there were only 117,000 applicants. Clearly, he concluded, “the gap between the number of jobs available and [the number of] applicants was a sign that some job-seekers lacked the skills required…”

Then there is the dearth of accurate information on how many are actually employed, out of job, or working part time. The President said in his State of the Nation Address last year that some 3.1 million new jobs were created in the first two years of his administration. He said that when he came into office, the unemployment rate was 8 percent, which dropped to 7.2 percent in April 2011 and to 6.9 percent as of June 2012.

Now the President doubts these figures. He admitted ordering a review of a government survey on job creation since 2010. He said he could not see why the survey showed the unemployment rate dropping when each year brought in a million new job-seekers and only an average 860,000 new jobs, leaving a difference of 140,000. “If there’s an addition of 140,000 [to the ranks of the unemployed], the unemployment rate should go up,” he said.

Perhaps the most serious concern today in the employment sector is the need to create 14.6 million jobs between now and the end of the President’s term in 2016. World Bank country director Motoo Konishi has described the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the Philippines as an enormous task for the Aquino administration. “The need for good jobs—jobs that raise real wages or bring people out of poverty—is an overwhelming challenge,” he said during the Philippine Development Forum in Davao City last week.

Konishi estimated the number of unemployed or underemployed Filipinos at 10 million, with more than a million more entering the labor force every year. The job markets here and abroad have not been able to absorb the great numbers of people getting into the labor force; in order to address the labor problem, Konishi said, all other sectors in the economy, particularly agribusiness and agriculture, must contribute more significantly in creating jobs and reducing poverty.

Here is where the private sector should come in. Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who is also director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, noted that about $3 billion in new investments would be needed to generate 3-4 million jobs a year, the number required to sustain economic growth while curbing poverty and making growth “inclusive.” Balisacan said that aside from infrastructure, there was a need to stimulate investments in agriculture, tourism and other sectors that are massive job generators even for people without higher education or technical training.

According to the President, the government, through the Department of Labor and Employment, Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), and the Commission on Higher Education, has adopted measures to ensure that the skills of both college and vocational graduates will match the job requirements. He said schools and training institutions should update students on employment trends and equip them with the necessary skills.

Perhaps the appointment of an “employment czar” to coordinate all efforts related to job creation—a pillar of the Aquino administration—will help greatly. A person who will make certain that data on the number of employed, unemployed or working part time are accurate and up-to-date, and that entrants to the labor force have the skills needed for the jobs available. Someone who will ensure the quality of the labor pool—that is, made up of people equipped with the skills for the sectors being promoted by the government through tax incentives. Someone who will gather all the necessary information for the government, in the President’s words, “to know the job prospects—not today, but two years, four years from now—and inform the students to make sure that what they’re taking up matches the job opportunities.”

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Tags: Arsenio Balisacan , Benigno Aquino , DOLE , employment , Government , labor , Tesda

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