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To bridge the knowledge gap

/ 01:25 AM January 16, 2016

Legislators, government policymakers and the private sector often cite the “job-vs-skills mismatch” to explain why an alarming number of young people of employable age cannot find decent work despite the many vacancies waiting to be filled. The tourism, semiconductors and electronics, engineering, retail, and manufacturing industries are all seeing clear signs that more and more jobs will open up in the coming years.

This uptick is much more pronounced in the high-value information technology and business process outsourcing industry. According to Jose Mari Mercado, president of Ibpap (IT & Business Process Management Association of the Philippines), all indicators point to significantly higher global demand from 2016 onward. In 2014, BPOs, KPOs and ITOs (business process, knowledge process and information technology outsourcing firms, respectively) in the Philippines hired one million full-time employees and generated some $16 billion in revenues. By 2016, Mercado expects this figure to grow to about $25 billion. And barring unforeseen events, he anticipates this industry’s revenues to be at par with remittances from overseas Filipino workers by 2017.

Before you say “call centers” like it’s a dirty term, may I point out that the occupations and careers available in the IT BPM industry as we know it today are incredibly diverse. That’s because IT BPM has discrete subsectors—contact center, health information, shared services, animation, game development, and software development. Each is an industry in itself, with its own duly recognized enabling association.

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Of course, the contact center industry continues to hire in very large numbers. Benedict C. Hernandez, president of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines, expects the talent demand to rise significantly, but he has repeatedly said that because the competencies keep evolving and are becoming increasingly complex, BPO companies should cultivate the talent they need by actively engaging schools, colleges and universities in meaningful partnership activities.

Myla Reyes, president of the Healthcare Information Management Association of the Philippines (Himap), points out that increased healthcare spending, particularly in the United States, has led to healthcare reforms that leverage technology solutions to help ensure additional coverage. “This is a great opportunity, especially for our allied healthcare professionals, to look into what HIM (health information management) can offer in terms of a long-term career,” Reyes says.

But both Himap chair Jeff Williams and executive director Jeanette Carillo emphasize that HIM combines healthcare and IT skills. Carillo adds that bringing up graduates’ competencies to industry standards should be a continuing priority for both industry and academe.

The Global In-House Center Council (GICC) represents the shared services industry. Shared services involves centralizing a company’s business processes such as finance, purchasing, inventory, payroll, hiring, and IT for all its units. Multinational organizations that are GICC members—like Shell, Chevron, Henkel, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, HSBC, CitiGroup and Manulife—all have shared services units in their Philippine locations. This has proven to be a cost-effective solution, but a key success factor would be the pool of competent college graduates, because the demand constantly rises.

The Philippines continues to figure prominently in the software development industry. Jonathan de Luzuriaga and Natalie Hunter, president and executive director, respectively, of the Philippine Software Industry Association, both cite heightened competencies in IT as the key to our achieving and maintaining a global leadership position in this industry.

Not surprisingly, the animation and game development industries have a strong appeal among our youth. The Animation Council of the Philippines and the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP) say there’s a lot of raw talent in the Philippines but it needs to be honed to global standards. GDAP president Alvin Juban says students who are thinking of going into game development should understand that they need to have advanced math, physics and geometry competencies.

Commissioner Cynthia Rose Bautista proposed, in the UP Centennial Lecture “When Reforms Don’t Transform” that she delivered together with Allan Bernardo and Education Undersecretary Dina Ocampo, that all education reform should address the acquisition of knowledge and skills that would enable Filipinos to participate effectively in the world of work, transform their communities and societies, and build better futures for themselves and for others in their communities.

This proposal points to a knowledge gap, which more accurately describes the global “educated but unemployed” paradox rather than the simplistic jobs-vs-skills mismatch. Teachers are at the heart of learning, but today’s tech-driven world demands that they constantly update their understanding of the 21st-century workplace. Otherwise, the knowledge that they impart to their students will lack depth and relevance, hence the gap.

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Today, Bautista leads the Commission on Higher Education’s drive to bridge this knowledge gap through a set of development packages that include an industry immersion program for faculty. The finer points of the industry immersion program should be ready for dissemination quite soon. The important thing is that the CHEd sees it as a collaborative effort between academe and industry.

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

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TAGS: business process outsourcing, call centers, information technology, jobs
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