Meeting the demand for technical skills
A German friend of mine, Paul Schaefer, passed away recently. Thanks to him and the Hanns Seidel Stiftung, the German foundation he headed for more than 20 years, a good part of Philippine industry has seen the inculcation of the very healthy culture called “dualvoc” (work-study), which is the German approach to the apprenticeship system. Tens of thousands of young Filipinos, the great majority of them coming from the poorest families in the country, have acquired the qualifications that make them highly employable in leading manufacturing and service enterprises requiring high-level technical skills, whether mechanical, electrical, or electronic.
To cite a notable example, many of them were absorbed by Lufthansa Technik in the maintenance and repair of some of the most technologically sophisticated airplanes, not only for Lufthansa but for other international and national airlines. And these young graduates of the dualvoc system (called dual tech in the Philippines) are paid much above the minimum wage.
On Dec. 15, 2017, the Financial Times carried a report titled “Apprentices help drive Swiss growth,” which heaped high praise on the work-study approach in Switzerland. It is not a coincidence that Switzerland always comes out No. 1 in global competitiveness in annual rankings like those of the World Economic Forum. As the FT report stated, “Switzerland’s long-established apprenticeship system, combining classroom and workplace learning, is widely seen as one of the affluent country’s greatest economy strengths, creating a pool of highly skilled workers.” Switzerland shares this apprenticeship culture with other German-speaking countries in Europe, as affirmed in the FT report: “Dating from medieval times, formal apprenticeship schemes remain entrenched across German-speaking Europe. Not coincidentally, Germany and Austria, as well as Switzerland, have among the continents’ lowest youth unemployment rates.”
As I have written in previous columns, we have to take advantage of the K-to-12 system in basic education to introduce among the youth and their parents a culture of preferring technical education to academic training in college, not only to guarantee high incomes for them after finishing tertiary education but also to address the severe shortage of technically skilled workers, especially in the booming construction sector. We are also seeing a renaissance of manufacturing investments as foreign investors shift their operations from China to Southeast Asia. We cannot continue producing college graduates who are not employable as industry comes begging for skilled workers.
It may take time to change the mindset of parents and the youth as regards their bias against vocational or technical courses. But we have to keep pounding on facts such as those presented in the FT report: “In Switzerland, two-thirds of students in the final stage of secondary education opt for vocational training, mostly in three- or four-year ‘dual’ programs combining classroom study with workplace training. Prominent alumni include Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of UBS, who began his career in the mid-1970s as an apprentice at Corner Bank in Lugano, and Peter Voser, chairman of ABB engineering group, who started in the early 1980s on a vocational training course at a bank in Aargau.”
These examples of CEOs and other top executives of large corporations who started out as technical workers are no longer rare in the Philippines given the first technical school to adopt the German dualvoc system in the early 1980s, thanks to the assistance of Schaefer and the Hanns Seidel Stiftung. Because of the ladderized system, some graduates of Dualtech, located in Carmelray, Canlubang, went on to pursue engineering degrees and eventually became supervisors and factory managers. Another model of dual training in the Philippines is the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) in San Jose, Cebu City. Established in 1990, CITE provides top-quality technical training to persons from lower-income families through scholarships. It also provides technical retraining and management upgrading courses for industry workers.
Both Dualtech and CITE give the highest priority to values education, inculcating in their trainees the virtues of hard work, attention to detail, integrity, perseverance, diligence and respect for others. From decades of experience, these two schools have shown that there is no such thing as a “damaged culture” in the Philippines. Filipinos, especially if trained from a young age, can be as productive as their German or Swiss counterparts.
Bernardo M. Villegas (bernardo.villegas @uap.asia) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.