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Creating jobs for Filipinos

Publication Date : 08-05-2012


Nearly 3 million Filipinos (2.922 million to be exact), or 7.2 per cent of our labour force, were unemployed as of last January, according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).

In contrast, Thailand has only 1 per cent unemployment; Vietnam and Brunei have 2.7 per cent; Singapore 2.8 per cent; and Malaysia 3.4 per cent. Even Cambodia, Laos and Burma (Myanmar), the most lagging countries in Asean, count only 1.4, 1.8 and 4 per cent of their labour force respectively as unemployed.

Only Indonesia’s 7.1 per cent comes close. Note that we already have about 8 million of our compatriots working overseas, or more than two and a half times those unemployed at home. Think of how bad things could have been if they had no choice but to stay home.

Why can’t we have enough jobs within our own shores? One could list a host of causes, mostly man-made, hence avoidable if we just get our act together.

Problematic governance deterred private investment growth for most of the past decade, when total investment was stagnant even as our neighbors saw theirs growing from 3-20 per cent annually. Rampant smuggling of products ranging from onions to motor vehicles has stolen the business from domestic producers, and with it, jobs from Filipino workers.

Peace and order problems in parts of Mindanao make it very difficult to attract job-creating investments to that part of the country. Government policies that favour a few, but in the process inhibit the creation of millions of potential jobs, continue to be in place. A general decline in education over the past decade—seen in falling enrollment rates and test scores, and rising dropout rates—has severely impaired the employability of our youth.

The data show that the number of unemployed Filipinos didn’t change significantly from last year. This means that the number of new jobs our economy created over the past year (1.1 million) managed to catch up with the number of new entrants to the labour force. But 2.922 million jobless is simply too much. And given our neighbours’ comparative jobs performance, we need to work double-time just to achieve the norm within our region.

The only way to get closer to our neighbours’ unemployment figures, then, is simply to generate far more jobs—and better quality ones—than we have been able to manage so far.

But it’s not a matter of simply generating jobs per se. We need the right jobs for those who need them. Seen another way, we need more workers qualified for the jobs that are available.

The reported outcome of job fairs held nationwide last Labour Day illustrates the point rather starkly. On May 1, the Department of Labour and Employment offered at least 360,777 job vacancies from 1,706 employers in job fairs all across the country.

On May 4, an Inquirer report revealed that very few of the jobseekers who showed up at the fairs actually got hired. The report quoted a labour official saying, “the job fairs confirmed that most jobseekers do not have the corresponding skills for the jobs they were applying for or being offered by companies needing workers.”

In Southern Mindanao, for example, out of 8,453 applicants who showed up, only 547 were reportedly hired, with another 1,820 under consideration pending additional requirements. Call centers offered more than 3,000 jobs in the region, but few applicants were actually hired, according to the same report.

If we are to be effective in battling unemployment, we need to understand the nature of the beast. And to know the nature of our unemployment problem, we need to know who the jobless are.

 The quarterly Labour Force Survey reported by the NSO readily provides this information. As of last January, nearly two-thirds (63.5 per cent) of our jobless are male, and over a third (36.5 per ccent) female. The jobless are predominantly young: almost half (49 pervcent) are below 25 years old, and almost four-fifths (79 per cent) are under 35.

Three out of five have not gone beyond high school, and of these, only about half actually completed their secondary schooling.

In sum, our jobless are mostly male, predominantly young, and largely lack education. Thus, while much has been said about the great employment potential of business process outsourcing (BPO), this industry will not be the answer to our persistent unemployment problem. While we cannot negate the great potential of BPO as growth driver for our economy, the bulk of our unemployed will not even qualify for BPO jobs.

The new jobs coming from that industry will not help those who are currently unemployed; they are largely for those already in the education pipeline targeted for those jobs. To employ the former and thereby make a real dent on our persistently high unemployment, we "need to look elsewhere".

 And as I have constantly argued, that “elsewhere” lies in agriculture and agribusiness, in tourism, in infrastructure construction, and in manufacturing. These sectors offer jobs that can readily absorb our predominantly young and undereducated jobless Filipinos with little or no additional education and training needed.

Manufacturing is getting a renewed boost from China’s rising labour costs. Having fallen badly behind on infrastructure, a massive catch-up simply must happen. Boosting tourism needs more than a good slogan; the policy and regulatory environment for civil aviation still needs much fixing if we are to attract more flights, hence tourists within our shores.

Agriculture must cease to be a political milking cow, but a genuine lifter of lives in the rural areas. If the president can do all these, then he would really make a difference on his one greatest challenge: creating jobs.


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