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Why not take the tech-voc track?

Ask Filipino children what they want to be when they grow up, and their probable answers won’t surprise you: a doctor, an engineer or maybe a lawyer. When was the last time you heard a kid say she wanted to be a plumber, a forklift driver or a farming technician?

In the Philippines, 73 percent of families want their children to be college-educated, in the hope of seeing them land professional jobs. This is supported by anecdotal evidence in our experience at Philippine Business for Education (PBEd). We’ve talked to youth from across the country and asked them about their willingness to sign up for construction or manufacturing positions. A number of them told us they’d rather be behind computers in air-conditioned offices.

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The common perception is that an academic track in senior high school and a college degree are prerequisites to getting those kinds of jobs. For most young Filipinos and their families, the road to success is paved with a bachelor’s degree.

While we can totally get behind anyone who wishes to pursue a college degree, it shouldn’t come at the expense of efforts to strengthen the technical-vocational (tech-voc) education system in the country. Newsflash: Good, high-paying jobs await qualified tech-voc grads. In construction companies, a tech-voc graduate who works as a heavy equipment operator earns a lot more than an admin officer with a college degree.

In high-technology firms, technicians are as in demand as engineers. Given proper incentives, multisectoral support and  a supportive policy environment, the tech-voc track can also be a viable alternative for young Filipinos who wish to lead productive lives.

Unlike in more developed economies with robust tech-voc systems and low youth unemployment like Germany and Australia, there is much to be desired when we talk about tech-voc in the Philippines. There is a dearth of enterprise-based training programs, and enrollment is still relatively low despite promising career prospects.

However, certain numbers have been encouraging. Latest data show that there has been a significant increase in the number of enrollees in tech-voc education and training, from 1.57 million in 2011 to 2.28 million in 2015. Around 65.4 percent of tech-voc graduates were able to find employment in 2014, an improvement from 48.5 percent in 2005. People are slowly seeing the opportunities that await a tech-voc education: good jobs and a competent workforce.

In June last year, PBEd, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development, launched YouthWorks PH. By leveraging our partnerships with the private sector, YouthWorks PH aims to provide tech-voc training opportunities to young Filipinos not in education, employment or training. Working with schools and companies, we develop training programs and create employment opportunities in the agriculture, banking and finance, construction, energy, hospitality and tourism, and manufacturing industries. Our participants undergo training in tech-voc institutes and in the actual companies in their local area, ensuring that they get to apply what they learned in school to their actual job.

This is admittedly a small contribution to what we believe should be a society-wide public policy effort. Schools have to update their curriculum, companies have to open up, the government has to implement laws that will incentivize training, and the youth need to opt in. In other words, everyone has to pitch in.

We may still have a long way toward strengthening our tech-voc ecosystem in the country, but with help from the government, industry and academe, we are making crucial inroads that lay the foundation for the future. As we go around the country recruiting 20,000 youth to undergo tech-voc training, we hope that we will be met with eager eyes.

And in the coming years and decades, when we ask Filipino children what they want to be when they grow up, we hope many of them will also answer that they want to be a plumber, a forklift driver or a farming technician. And as it is with the usual responses, we likewise hope that we will not be surprised.

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Love Basillote is executive director of Philippine Business for Education.

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Academic, Business Matters, Love Basillote, PBEd, Philippine Business for Education, tech-voc, track
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