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No Free Lunch

Where do college grads go?

Our high school graduates appear to be making the wrong choices on their college courses, as they pursue degrees that do not lead to high-paying jobs — and yet earnings are their expressed primary motivation for getting further education or training. This contradiction is among the findings of the latest Graduate Tracer Survey, the fourth done in the Philippines on record. Covering college graduates who completed their studies within 2009 to 2011, the results are reported in a paper by Melba Tutor, Aniceto Orbeta Jr., and James Matthew Miraflor released by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies last December.

The study further affirms the widely observed jobs-education mismatch in our labor market, usually examined from the point of view of employers and higher education institutions, this time from the perspective of the learners. This perspective is important, the authors argue, because it is the student who chooses the school, course program, and occupation s/he pursues, and the one who experiences the consequences of these choices. More than her/his school, it is s/he who can judge the adequacy and appropriateness of training received based on actual employment experience. And more than the employer, it is s/he who knows her/his level of job satisfaction, and whether expectations motivating their studies have indeed been met.

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The survey found that 15 courses accounted for more than 70 percent of the graduates, and nearly half had bachelor’s degrees in just five fields: nursing, elementary and secondary education, business administration, and commerce. But of the graduates in BS Nursing, which was the top course choice comprising 25 percent of the females and 18 percent of the males of the graduates surveyed, nearly half (47.2 percent) were not working as nurses. They ended up as contact center information clerks (11 percent), retail and wholesale trade managers (8 percent), general office clerks (6.2 percent), cashiers and ticket clerks (3.5 percent), and even police officers (3.2 percent)—plus many more nonrelated occupations.

BS Criminology/Criminal Justice was the second top course choice among the male graduates surveyed, and also among the top 10 choices of the females. Students in the field aspire to be police officers, court officers, investigators, or social workers. But the majority of its graduates ended up as security guards, firefighters, shopkeepers, office clerks, retail and wholesale trade managers, commercial sales representatives, debt-collectors, and many more.

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Another field notorious for mismatch is BS Accountancy, with only about a fourth (26.5 percent) of graduates actually becoming accountants. The bulk became bookkeeping clerks, accounting associates, general office clerks, bank tellers, college teachers, debt-collectors, and more.

Of particular interest are BS Agriculture graduates, especially at this time when government is widely called upon to prioritize agricultural development in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery strategy. But that is another field where jobs mismatch is notoriously high, with more than four in five (83 percent) graduates ending up in unrelated occupations. This makes them the third highest mismatched field in the survey, exceeded only by graduates of BS Customs Administration (95.8 percent in nonmatched occupations) and BS Electronic and Communications Engineering (88.6 percent). The bulk of agriculture graduates worked as office clerks, sales representatives, retail and wholesale trade managers, debt collectors, shop sales assistants, cashiers and ticket clerks, and elementary or high school teachers, among others.

The biggest mismatch, it turns out, is in the graduates’ lack of the core skills of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills, much more than technical skills. Both employers, in many past studies, and graduates, in this one, point to these as the serious gap that could be hardest to fill. It is the neglect of developing these in basic and college education that our education reforms must seek to change, if Filipinos are to propel our economy and society into one that is competitive, prosperous, and resilient.

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, college graduates, jobs-education mismatch, No Free Lunch, wrong choice of course
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