Commentary

Boost for global competitiveness

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I attended a different kind of commencement ceremony a few days ago. First of all, there was no graduation march to speak of. There was no podium and nobody delivered a rousing valedictory address, although there were the usual congratulatory messages from special guests. There were only 22 honorees, all of them professionals, and most of them quite young.

It was the closing ceremony of the SMP Master Trainers Training Program, which was organized by the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap) in line with its mandate from the Commission on Higher Education “to create a pool of qualified, globally competitive, and job-ready workforce needed by IT-BPM (Information Technology and Business Process Management) companies, in keeping with the thrusts and objectives of the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.”

SMP stands for Service Management Program. It is a 21-unit specialization track created to prepare graduates for a career in the IT-BPM industry, one of four “growth areas” identified by the national government. (The others are agriculture/fisheries, tourism development, and emerging industries and innovation clusters.)

The SMP training program is the first of its kind in the Philippines. The course itself was developed by a team of experts from Dr. Paulino Tan’s Asia Pacific College, led by training and development manager Del Calub and managing director Tata Medado.

The 22 trainers-in-training were chosen both for their extensive exposure to the IT-BPM industry and their training expertise. Still, they found the training sessions quite exacting, especially since they all knew that their intended clientele would be instructors in state universities and colleges and private higher education institutions.

Of the four identified growth areas, IT-BPM exhibits great employment potential for our new graduates. In 2012, for instance, this industry directly hired 772,000 full-time employees and accounted for about 4 to 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Data trends from the Ibpap indicate that by 2016, the jobs available for this industry will grow to somewhere near 1.3 million, and the contribution to GDP will most likely grow to around 7 percent.

The skills and competencies needed by this “sunshine” industry have likewise evolved.

More and more IT-BPM companies are looking to hire qualified people to handle a multitude of business processes ranging from fund management, translation, customer litigation, data administration and reconciliation, and credit and loan transactions to medical transcription, subtitling, publishing, purchasing, flash animation, game development for mobile devices, “in-betweening,” and software development.

On top of all that, the demand for contact center employees remains high because our English tongue is by and large accent-free and the most intelligible in the region.

However, the demand far outpaces the supply, because the number of job seekers qualified to be hired immediately is incredibly low. For every 100 applicants, only five to eight manage to get hired.

To determine the talent gap, Ibpap started testing new graduates with its GCAT (Global Competitiveness Assessment Tool). Four basic skills were tested (i.e, verbal and numerical, cognitive ability, computer literacy, and English proficiency) together with behavioral skills such as interpersonal communication, courtesy, reliability, and responsiveness.

From 2010 to 2012, Ibpap accumulated the scores of 21,000 examinees. The data were then turned over to the University of the Philippines Statistical Research Foundation, which in turn recommended that among the four basic skills, English proficiency be given priority (the supply-demand gap for it is 29 percent), followed by cognitive ability (supply-demand gap of about 25 percent), and computer literacy (supply-demand gap of 20 percent). Conversely, the behavioral skills were by and large par for the course.

The GCAT results, while not surprising to the education reform community, were nevertheless significant because of the testing tool itself: The test parameters are industry-initiated and are therefore reflective of the more stringent global standards.

In fact, the GCAT data proved critical to the eventual development of the SMP specialization track. The product of the continuous collaboration between the academe and the IT-BPM industry, the program is described by the Commission on Higher Education as “an integrated approach [that] takes into consideration the interrelationships among the functional areas of business, notably in information and communication technology, as well as a sensitivity to the economic, social, technological, legal and international environment in which the business must operate.”

CHEd subsequently issued Commission Memorandum Order No. 6 and 34, which prescribes how the SMP specialization track shall be integrated into the business administration/business management and the information technology degree programs respectively.

With their knowledge, patience and perseverance, the freshly minted SMP master trainers have the singular opportunity to bring together what Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner describes as “two hostile tribes—the people who teach our kids and the people who want to give them jobs.”

These trainers may not realize it yet, but they are leading a multistakeholder drive to uplift our global competitiveness.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and the education lead talent development at Ibpap.

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