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No Free Lunch

Addressing the jobs mismatch

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In his State of the Nation Address two years ago, President Aquino noted 50,000 jobs in the Phil-JobNet website that could not be every month because the knowledge and skills of job seekers did not match the needs of the companies. As of last May 29, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz reported 130,290 vacancies in that website, the government’s official jobs portal that consolidates vacancy postings from various sources. Last January, a record high of 268,278 job vacancies was posted, while the number of registered worker-applicants was only less than half (116,795).

Last Labor Day, the Department of Labor and Employment attracted a total of 36,765 job applicants in job fairs held in various parts of the country. Only 1,274 found immediate placement, with another 3,340 applicants told to undergo further interviews with employers. This suggests that less than one out of 10 applicants manages to find a job in DOLE’s job fairs. And yet Secretary Baldoz observes that just like in the website, the number of jobs offered during job fairs normally exceeds the number of applicants.

One wonders why we have a persistent problem with high unemployment and underemployment, and yet have so many jobs persistently waiting to be filled. The usual answer is that we face a jobs-skills mismatch wherein the training of our jobseekers simply does not match the requirements of the companies looking for people to fill their vacancies. This mismatch problem appears to span job categories ranging from the relatively low skilled to highly specialized ones. It is also a problem seen in both the private and public sectors.

In many cases, the skills mismatch is very real. Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), through its research partner Brain Trust Inc. (BTI), interviewed various companies’ human resource officers as part of its USAID-funded Higher Education for Productivity Project (HEPP). A large industrial firm in Batangas needs dozens of engineers for its projected expansion, but can’t find suitable recruits. I know one government department needing dozens of specialists in a particular field, but has so far found only two qualified applicants among the many who have applied. We all know of the mad rush students made to nursing schools in past years, and the equally mad rush of certain colleges and universities to offer nursing courses to meet the demand. It didn’t take long to reach a glut of nursing graduates; now they are the ones actually paying to be able to work in hospitals for needed work experience. Otherwise they end up working in call centers or totally unrelated jobs, putting their highly specialized training to naught.

But the perceived technical skills mismatch appears illusory in other contexts. I’ve heard a number of human resource officers say that what they are looking for, but have difficulty finding in their applicants, are not so much technical skills (such as those obtained in science, engineering and technology courses) but more of “soft” ones: communication and presentation skills, analytical ability, resourcefulness, creativity, motivation, ability to work in a team, honesty and the like. These are all too often neglected in the schools where the workers are trained. One might well argue that some of these “soft” skills cannot be taught in school. On the other hand, the technical skills demanded by the job can often be readily imparted through in-company training, making the specific technical training of the applicant less critical. Many employers only look for any college degree, and for as long as applicants possess the desired “soft” skills, they will take care of the rest. Here, the mismatch is not in technical training, but in something more fundamental.

In a survey run by BTI, students were asked who chose the course they were enrolled in. Most said that they made the choice themselves (rather than, say, their parents). Asked further what influenced their choice, the overwhelming reply was that the course was “in demand.”

The problem is that what seems to be in demand now may no longer be so four to five years later when they graduate and look for jobs. Furthermore, perceptions on what is “in demand” could be misplaced and prone to “herd mentality” and fickle swings in the market. Meanwhile, most schools also tend to base their choice of course offerings on what they see students and parents want, thereby reinforcing the possible error in perception of job market demands.

In the ideal world, schools—be they universities, colleges or technical/vocational training institutions—would be in regular contact and close coordination with the potential employers of their graduates, well-guided on the nature and content of their course offerings in order to be most responsive to the needs of the firms. The most common way this contact currently happens is through on-the-job training (OJT) programs that college seniors must go through. But we’ve encountered firms that don’t take OJTs seriously, even seeing them as a burden, supervision costs and all. There is great scope for strengthening linkages between industry and academe to foster more relevant course and curriculum design, university-based research agenda, faculty enrichment through industrial immersion, scholarship programs, and other modes for helping the schools address the persistent job-skills mismatch.

PBEd’s HEPP project is pushing for institutionalized dialogue between the supply and demand sides of the jobs market, namely industry and academe. Without it, we could be counting growing unfilled job postings in Phil-JobNet and other similar websites well into the future.

* * *

E-mail: cielito.habito@gmail.com


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Tags: Aquino administration , employment , labor , SONA 2013

  • Carlos_Iho

    An important factor in the jobs-skills mismatch is the industry-academe mismatch itself. Most educators do not have a clue on what goes on in the practical world and the education acquired in school is mostly wasted since many of the subjects taught are irrelevant to the actual industry practices.

  • Guest

    At the beginning, middle and end of every school year, I ask my students to scour through JobsDB and JosbStreet. I specifically ask them to check out the most number of jobs available in the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere where they might end up working some day. The jobs ad does provide an indication of industries in demand of labor in various stages of growth. Within the first two years of college or university, my students get a feel of what the job market out there is like and overseas. They then get to choose which additional electives or classes to take in order to improve their chances in landing their dream job. It doesn’t always work but the success rate is somewhere around 70% for the last 10 years. I base my count on the students I’m able to get in touch with a year after graduation. The contact rate is around 87%. Put together, I think this is the best we can do for our students unless the national government can come up with a better way to coordinate NEDA, DepEd, CHR, DOLE and the other concerned gov’t agencies. If we wait for the national government, it will take forever.

    • tadasolo

      Good thing you do it on your own to help students. We need the Department of Education to require all schools to provide admission and employment councilors the current job openings with hard numbers on data and skills. My own experience in training new engineers in California the last 28 years and now retired is heavily weighted towards attitude and life skills in team work. The grades come in handy to weed out the non performers but attitude towards work is paramount

  • Descarte5E

    When my daughter was filling up the UPCAT application form, I advised her to put in Clothing Technology. Upon learning of my recommended course, her classmates teased her, “yuck! What’s that course?” I explained to her, if she graduated with that degree I can easily help her find a job because I am working in the industry and I have a great deal of connection that would increase even more in 5 years time. I assured her of a promising and lucrative career. Meanwhile I allow her to be more independent, socialize more and mingle with people to develop self-confidence. Yes agree with importance of learning those soft skills and one of the fundamental requirements is that a pereon develop and exudes self-confidence.

    • John_Galt_II

      Engot! Bakit mo pinakialaman ang anak mo? Hayaan mo siyang mamili ng gusto niya!

      • Descarte5E

        I am the father and ought to give her rational options but not insisting or mandating her to do it, and anyways she asked me.
        It’s a family affair and I was just sharing. She is looking up to me and asked me because she also dreams of a work like mine able to travel around the world all paid for by the company.
        Now if your children is not consulting you, better approach them and ask why is that so? I know what I’m doing, and the least I would do is heed people like you.

      • John_Galt_II

        Palusot ka pa! Samantalang may “connection” ka pang binabanggit. Hayaan mo ang kanyang abilities ang mag direct sa kanya. Hindi ang “connection” mo!

      • Descarte5E

        Connection means network of people. It just happened that I used to be the regional director of one of the major sports brands in the world and I can easily refer people, deserving ones, to my friends in the industry. That’s how it works in the outside world. But we need people with the right attitude.

      • John_Galt_II

        That’s how it works for you but not for people with real abilities. You need people with good character, not people who wants to get ahead because of relationships!

  • Fulpol

    if those jobs are urgent.. the HR will hire, no matter what.. hiring an applicant who possessed qualifications closest to the job requirement.. and they will train the new found employee.. companies allocate training expenses in their annual budget..

    you can only say mismatch if those jobs are so critical and highly specialize.. if the only reason is so called soft skills, darn those can easily developed by attending company’s training and seminars..

    in a service oriented industry, mismatch is not really a problem.. but in highly industrialize and technology creation industry, critical skills and high specialization is needed… if you are a civil engineer, they won’t hire you in biotech company.. but if you are a civil engineer, they can hire you in sales dept. of a real estate company.. or even in call center..

    nang-u-uto na naman itong gobyeno.. pati si Habito, nauto rin..

  • ricelander

    Assuming there is no job mismatch, how many will be employed? Looks like the figure would not be much of a large dent on unemployment still and all.

  • WeAry_Bat

    There is also location mismatch between jobs and applicants.

  • Islaslolo

    Is it really a jobs mismatch or the quality of education including how we raise our children?



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