How should we keep our people home?



Senator Sonny Angara

Senator Sonny Angara

Last week, we talked about how younger Filipinos prefer to find work abroad, based on the findings of the recent 2019 ASEAN Youth Survey by the World Economic Forum (WEF).  Aside from higher salaries, the new aspects of the brain drain seem to be rooted in our youth wanting to expand their existing skill sets and receive more training. In other words, they train their sights abroad because there appears to be more personal growth — not only career-wise — elsewhere.

The 2019 ASEAN Youth Survey also pointed to a disconnect between what jobs are available in the Philippines, what jobs are hard-to-fill, and what our youth are looking for. Specifically, ASEAN Youth said that on average they wish to be involved more in the tech sector, aspire to become entrepreneurs, and tend to have low interest in traditional industries like manufacturing or construction.

The survey’s findings only underscore the need to attract or develop those high-tech, career-advancing jobs here in the Philippines — if we are to keep the best and brightest among our young here at home.

Locally, the online freelance economy — driven by so-called “digital migrants” — seems to partially answer this need. Here, some of our young professionals get to earn their keep by being “virtual employees” of companies abroad, at times from the comfort of their own homes or in the convenience of a co-working space.

Some have called this our growing “gig economy,” which according to Payoneer’s Global Gig-Economy Index for Q2 2019 was rated 6th in the world in terms of year-on-year revenue growth, coming in at 35 percent.

While such virtual employment may be lucrative, what we should be focusing on is the development of our own industries. And to do that, we need to address some very basic issues about our own country’s global competitiveness.

We may have made huge improvements in recent years, but we still aren’t able to attract as much foreign direct investments (FDIs) as our neighbors. The 2019 WEF Global Competitiveness Index shows that we are 64th out of 141 countries, and our major strengths are in our market size (31st), our labor market (39th), and our financial system (43rd). However, our lowest marks are in health (102nd), infrastructure (96th), and the adoption of information and communication technologies, or ICTs (88th). Clearly, much work has to be done in these areas.

The good news is that, even with these challenges, we have attracted many key foreign investors.  For instance, Rockwell Collins, formerly known as B/E Aerospace and now Collins Aerospace, is a company based in Tanauan City, Batangas City that manufactures the internals of airplanes, including those for the kitchen, cabin interiors, and internal lighting. They employ 3,000 people, with 162 of them being engineers and designers.. What’s interesting is that they initially set up in the Philippines just to do rudimentary assembly, but soon they started to do design work because of the talent pool available.  Some Filipino engineers were even flown back in from Singapore, in a “reverse brain drain” of sorts.

There is also Dyson, Inc., locally known as Dyson Philippines—the renowned British company that produces vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, and other haircare accessories, and lighting and air treatment equipment. In the past, they had production facilities in Singapore, but since 60% of their engineers were from the Philippines, the company decided to move here.

Another is Knowles Electronics, which specializes in acoustics, software, signal processing, and the production of audio devices that are used in mobile phones and  similar devices, such as earphones, and Amazon’s Echo and Alexa. The company set up some research and development facilities aside from those for manufacturing in Cebu and in 2016, they helped develop an Acoustic Engineering course with the University of San Juan-Recoletos, so they could develop a local pool of talented acoustic engineers.

A common thread among these instances appears to be our people—their talent, industriousness, creativity, and intellect being key factors to attracting foreign direct investment. These examples were among the prime reasons we filed Proposed Senate Resolution No. 4, calling on the appropriate Senate committees to conduct an investigation on the formulation and sustained implementation of a “Tatak Pinoy (Made in the Philippines” Industrialization Campaign and Policy.

The big question we’re trying to answer right now is what should be done so that this is replicated many times over across the country in a bid to create more well-paying, value-adding, and high-skilled jobs across the country.  We have some initial thoughts that we will discuss in a future column.  We welcome it if  others share with us their ideas.

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 Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200