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Business Matters

Education’s responsibilities in integrated Asean

The 2015 Asean integration, just like most human undertakings, has the potential to do good and—an equal potential, if not implemented properly—to exacerbate social problems. To ensure that integration benefits all, actions and programs must be purposive in nature. They must be intentionally directed to addressing the problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

In the forthcoming Asean Economic Community (AEC), the responsibility of education is to make the lives of as many people as possible better, to help make sure no one gets left behind, and everyone is prepared to face the opportunities and challenges of the regional economy.

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To live up to this responsibility, education must ensure employability. The employability of our people, more importantly our youth, is the most important factor to guarantee that they will benefit from economic integration. Our youth must be ready for the jobs that will be created, and the responsibility for this preparation falls on education. Schools must equip them with the skills and competencies required by the regional market place; they cannot do this by themselves. They must work hand in hand with business in order that education indeed leads to jobs.

Current trends indicate that by 2025 more than half of all high-skilled employment in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam could be filled by workers with insufficient qualifications. The mismatch of skills will persist and haunt us, unless education institutions and business work together. Business cannot wait for the system to create a pool of skilled labor; rather, it must be proactive and partner with institutions by offering career guidance, shaping curricula, training faculty, and providing equipment. If the system is to generate the needed competencies, companies must become part of the education process.

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In response to this need, in 2014 Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) formed the National Industry Academe Council (Niac). Driven by industry’s need for competent employees and academe’s desire to see its graduates employed, these sectors got together with a simple goal: to assist in the preparation of as many of the right people as possible, for the right jobs and companies and right careers. It is cochaired by Fr. Jett Villarin, Ateneo de Manila president, and myself. The co-vice chairs are Dr. Ric Rotoras, Mindanao University of Science and Technology president, and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala. The Niac includes the likes of the presidents of the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University and Banco de Oro Unibank, and the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines. PBEd subsequently also facilitated the formation of industry-academe councils in Iloilo, Bohol, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga.

The programs of the Niac seem mundane—refining and disseminating information on professions and career opportunities; creating codes of conduct to improve internship programs; training industry relations officers and their counterparts, university relations officers; and defining industry competencies and encouraging the formation of industry skills councils. However, it is precisely the dialogue and interactions that these programs will foster that will lead to more profound partnerships and more significant solutions.

As Father Villarin writes:

“Opening our doors to industry can be daunting at times, particularly when ideologies and philosophies, goals, and methods do not necessarily match, when there is little trust or even knowledge of each other. The challenge for us in the education sector is to find a place, a nexus point, a point of encounter, such as this National Industry Academe Council, where ideas and ideals are threshed out with our industry partners, in mutual recognition and respect, as we work towards the shared goal of improving Philippine education and the quality of life of our people.”

Ultimately, what is most important is to begin working together. According to a McKinsey Education to Employment study, “In every success story, the different stakeholders interacted intensively and frequently. They also went well beyond their traditional areas of activity: Employers got involved in education, and educators played a bigger role in employment.”

Ironically, what became apparent in the May 2015 PBEd-Niac summit was that it was business that was not living up to its share of the responsibilities. Philippine companies were hesitant to invest in training systems intended for the development of industry-wide competencies, or provide and share information that would help the youth choose careers and jobs, or collaborate on industry-wide competencies and quality assurance systems.

Yet, business stands to benefit, arguably the most, from a large pool of highly competent graduates.

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The ultimate point is that if education is to reduce unemployment and increase incomes, training must lead to jobs. This will only occur if those trained are equipped with the skills and competencies that those hiring require. This in turn will happen only if the training institutions and companies work hand in hand, directly with one another, with both sharing the burden and responsibilities.

To conclude, education’s continuing role is to make the lives of the many better. In the context of the AEC, this means helping all our peoples benefit from the opening regional economy and helping ensure that no one gets left behind. The best way for the education system to do this is to enhance the employability of our youth, which will only happen if business and educational institutions come together to shape, design and jointly deliver academic and training programs.

As the late great Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

These are excerpts from the keynote address delivered during the 9th Finex general membership meeting last Sept. 16 by Ramon del Rosario (rrdelrosario@gmail.com), chair of Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: Asean, Asean Economic Community, education, Makati Business Club, Ramon R. del Rosario Jr.
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