Jobs for senior high graduates

Last January, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10968, the law establishing the PQF-National Coordinating Council (NCC). The PQF stands for the Philippine Qualifications Framework, which sets the skills and education standards at different levels of educational attainment, from basic education to technical-vocational and tertiary levels. Accordingly, the law completes the harmonization efforts of the three pillars of the Philippine educational system – the Department of Education (DepEd), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).  Dubbed as “trifocalization”, the harmonization, through the PQF, allows the students and trainees “to move easily and readily between the different education and training sectors and between these sectors” as they move in and out of the labor market.

This harmonization program came two decades late. In the mid-1990s, Congress, emboldened by a set of “educational reform” recommendations from the Congressional Education Commission, broke up the education monopoly of the then Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) by establishing three separate autonomous educational institutions – DepEd, TESDA and CHED. The idea then was to strengthen education service delivery at each level. However, the big reorganization was done without putting in place any clear system of program coordination among the three. The problem of coordination was reflected in the difficulty of some universities offering all educational services (basic, technical-vocational, and tertiary) in making reports and needed organizational and policy adjustments based on priorities and guidelines outlined by the three independent educational authorities.

With the PQF system, coordination among the three is somehow strengthened. Further, RA 10968 mandates the PQF National Coordinating Council to consult industry stakeholders in the development of the PQF standards and how to align educational outcomes with industry requirements. This is a welcome development.

In line with this, there is an even greater urgency now to establish a Government-Industry-Education Council (GIEC), not only to help address the standard-setting requirements of the PQF but also to guide the academe in curriculum development, job and skills matching, career and employment pathing, technological and industrial innovation, research and extension, and so on. As proposed by some study groups, the Council may be set up at the national, regional and even in cities and municipalities with large populations.

Now the big question arises: is the first batch of the Senior High graduating this year ready for the world of work? Remember, the employability or job readiness is one of the major justifications used by then DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro in pushing for the passage of the K-12 law and rushing its implementation despite the complaint of parents and teachers’ unions on the absence of transition programs for all those affected by the addition of two more years in secondary schooling.

Opinions vary.  An officer of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry or PCCI claims that the 80-hour on-the-job (OJT) training for Senior High is not enough for students to gain competency at work and become employable in the labor market.  He/she needs at least 100 days of OJT exposure, or even 800 hours of OJT time, similar to what is being practised in Germany under the “dualtech” system. A DepEd official counters by explaining that what DepEd offers is a “Jobs Immersion Program”, which is more like a jobs exposure and appreciation program  for would-be labor entrants.

On the other hand, left-wing legislators assert that there are no jobs waiting for the K-12 graduates. They also add that lengthening OJT or Job Immersion periods to make the students employable can be exploitative. As interns or trainees, students are usually not given salary or compensation for their labor. Hence, the longer the internship or training, the more exploitative the training set-up becomes.

The reality is that creating conditions to facilitate the employment of K-12 students and graduates will never be easy. First, there are huge problems on the demand side, especially in underdeveloped regions or areas of the archipelago where industry is virtually non-existent.  In these regions, the proposed dualtech program – and even the Jobs Immersion program – will have limited number of cooperating industrial firms.  But even in the more developed or urbanized areas, securing the cooperation of industrial firms is difficult given the administrative cost and adjustment issues involved in making room for student trainees. TESDA itself cannot boast of a large number of cooperating firms for the various tech-voc training programs it has funded through the years. Also, the overwhelming majority of registered formal enterprises are micro-small enterprises employing less than 20 workers. These firms cannot absorb extra student trainees which they cannot supervise, let alone monitor.

This is why in the GIEC proposal, we are proposing that “industry” be defined in a broad sense, that is, to include those in the MSME sector, agricultural sector and informal economy. And given the overall challenge of job creation everywhere, Senior High programs promoting entrepreneurship, business capability building and modern farming should be continuously strengthened and popularized.

As to the DepEd training programs for the Senior High students, greater attention should be given on career planning, career guidance, and consultations on career pathways and job choices.  Many high schoolers do not know what they want to do and are likely to change their minds many times. Even those who are already able to land jobs keep looking for new jobs, a trait common among millennials these days. Again, this is another reason for the hesitation of some employers to open their corporate doors to time-consuming training programs such as dualtech for the trainees are likely to abandon them afterwards.

In a way, the Jobs Immersion program is a good idea if the students can be exposed not only to one type of jobs or careers. Short “summer” jobs can also provide the students a good feel of what  working really means.

But the most basic in job readiness is what the student acquires in the school system in terms of “core skills”. These include literacy, numeracy, communication skills, teamwork,  problem-solving and other learning ability skills. To seasoned human resource managers of big enterprises, possession of such skills make the would-be workers “trainable” for the regular jobs that may be open to them. After all, work means the ability to execute a series of instructions in an organized manner. Without these skills, a young labor entrant is likely to fail – be it in the factory or in a BPO cubicle.

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Turning Points 2018