Acceleration Level 2.2 suggested in the Everest Study has to do with enhancing the focus on creating awareness through marketing efforts to scale up the outreach of educational programs and initiatives.
Many parents and their children are still unfamiliar with the BPO-IT (business process outsourcing-information technology) sector. The awareness of this sector as a profession can be enhanced through job fairs/webinars, industry interaction, and social media branding to encourage/attract students to pursue relevant academic degrees or Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)-related skills training programs. More people from the industry should be involved in career advocacy and employment coaching. There should be proactive positioning of the information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) industry as an attractive profession and career option with high growth potential amongst the talent community. There should be collaboration with foreign universities and governments for training and exchange programs, with special preference given to East Asian universities, such as those in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. At the level of technical skills training, close ties with the governments and private foundations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland should be fostered because these countries were the pioneers in dualvoc training programs that combine classroom work with on-the-job practice. The industry should send to university campuses and technical schools ambassadors who will spread awareness of employment opportunities in the sector.
In these interventions, close coordination and cooperation among private organizations and public agencies will be critical. The IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) together with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and TESDA should take up the marking initiatives and social media branding for promoting the sector. Periodic job fairs and career coaching programs should be organized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) in various parts of the country, especially in cities with a concentration of universities and technical schools outside of Metro Manila and Cebu, such as Iloilo, Tuguegarao, Dumaguete, Bacolod, Davao, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, and others. CHED should focus on international tie-ups and set up exchange programs with top universities, not only in North America and Europe, but also in the Indo-Pacific region, such as India, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. IBPAP can coordinate social media branding and campus ambassador programs together with DepEd and CHED.
To achieve the ambitious goal of increasing employment in the sector from 1.45 million to 2.5 million in 2028 (implying an annual growth rate of 8%), there should be at least one roadshow every quarter across the next-wave cities. Annual job fairs have to be organized in as many regions and provinces as possible. It should be the responsibility of the DICT to expand the reach and update (e.g., more leverage of social media) the existing IT-BPM Career and Industry Awareness Fairs and IT-BPM Industry Ambassador programs.
As already mentioned, the focus should be on skills and competencies instead of academic degrees. Both CHED and TESDA should closely cooperate with the industry associations to develop a variety of both short and long courses, whether degree-oriented or not, that provide workers with the necessary skills and competencies in actual demand from the industry. Here, the work-study program will be crucial so that there will be a real match between what the industry needs and the human resources that the training programs are producing.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of improving the job-readiness of the products of the schools and training institutes through employability enhancement programs. There should be sustained efforts to revise curriculum and course delivery methods at various levels of education (primary school, junior-high, senior-high, and tertiary education) to build a talent pipeline following the Philippine Skills Framework (PSF) initiative for various sectors. Among other requirements are:
• Set up stepping stones to fulfilling the demand of the future by recalibrating the nature of courses at all levels of education, e.g., enhancing digital literacy and the soft skills for which Filipino workers are famous abroad.
• Enhancement of existing programs to include relevant subjects such as the Service Management Program (SMP) Specialization Track and Language Skills Institute (LSI).
• eLearning methods to be offered through online classes and recorded videos and promoted to expand the reach of such programs. These programs should be made available to those who are already in the workforce, whether employed, underemployed, or unemployed.
The key stakeholders have to be clearly identified and made responsible for their respective tasks. The Department of Education should be responsible for the effective implementation of Basic Education Development Plan (BEDP) 2030. Changes in the curriculum should be in line with PSFs and the respective organizations should ensure proper training is imparted to course developers and faculty of academic institutions on how to create courses. Academic planning and assessment are necessary to understand the learning outcomes of graduates (senior high, bachelors) and to review the career paths the various products of the training programs follow after their graduation. There should be continuing refinement of policies, standards, and guidelines (PSGs) to address the wants and needs of the industry. DICT should ensure ease of access to digital medium/learning platforms through tie-ups with online training programs such as Coursera, edX, MS Learn, LinkedIn learning, GitHub, etc.
For the more sophisticated skills needed by the top talents required in the industry (entrepreneurs, managers, research personnel, engineers) there should be strong government support to enhance high-quality research in higher education (masters, Ph.Ds, etc.) by upgrading available digital infrastructure and building government-funded labs. Here, it is important for the Government to refrain from multiplying state universities and colleges. A greater role in higher education should be assigned to the private sector. There should be more subsidies and financial aid given to the quality private universities that can complement the teaching, research, and innovation done by the University of the Philippines and a few other outstanding state universities and colleges. To save on government resources, which are never enough to comply with the constitutional requirement of providing free quality education to all the Filipino youth at the K to 12 level, the Government should work closely with the leading private universities and colleges in producing the top talents needed by the various industry sectors.
The target outcomes and timelines to achieve these goals are as follows:
• Establish an internal committee by 2023 to review the gaps in existing programs with the view of strengthening them.
• Roll out multiple pilot programs related to curriculum changes with some selected schools and colleges, both public and private, by 2024.
• Make basic computer education compulsory in mid-school by the year 2025.
• Introduce electives for digital/coding in senior high school by the year 2025.
• SMP tracks to be extended to at least 20 more schools/colleges/universities by 2025.
• The number of LSI institutes to be increased to 50 from 35 by 2025.
• Enroll at least 150,000 senior-high/bachelors graduates per year for industry-wide training programs relevant to IT-BPM.
• Establish a baseline of workforce with relevant skills such as technical know-how, digital literacy, and language capability by 2024 through the tracer study.
Create a centralized governance mechanism to bring efforts (e.g., skill surveys, PSF development) from all the agencies (currently more than 10 agencies/institutions are involved) which are leading talent reform initiatives.
All these will not be achievable unless there is political will from the leaders in the public sector, private business, and academe to put their efforts together to make sure that the supply of skills and talents coming from the academe and other training institutions is aligned with the demand from the employers in all the sectors.
The next six years will be critical for this alignment to happen. It is hoped that President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. will also assign a high priority to this most important sector as he has given to the objective of food security. The Philippines may never catch up with our East Asian neighbors in manufacturing and agribusiness excellence. The Philippines, though, together with India have all the competitive advantages of a young, growing and English-speaking population to be one of the top countries in the world in the BPO-IT sector.
Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.