The Philippine Statistics Authority’s monthly job reports since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 show a seesawing pattern of rising and falling unemployment that naturally arise from alternating regimes of strict and less stringent quarantine alert levels.
The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) has admitted that its original target of creating a million new jobs had been set back by the series of strict lockdowns and the shortage of public transportation. It is possible that the low COVID case count and increased mobility in December 2021 may have increased the number of available jobs — but the new record-high infection levels since the start of the year would likely push down employment levels anew.
Clearly, a more sustainable jobs program needs to be put in place.
One such initiative was the launching of the Philippine Skills Framework (PSF) in mid-2021. Seven priority sectors have been identified: creatives, food (agriculture and fishery); health and wellness; information technology and business process management (IT-BPM); logistics and supply chain; manufacturing; and tourism. The first-ever PSF for the supply chain and logistics sectors had been launched. It is imperative that the other sectors step up, too, in terms of concretizing this initiative in terms of enhanced job creation.
Reskilling and upskilling for digital transformation is the key that would enable a decisive pivot to new opportunities brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Particularly laudable is the Department of Education’s launching in December 2021 of Oplan TAWID (Technology-Assisted Work Immersion Delivery) in collaboration with five industry partners led by Microsoft and Cloudswyft. This program aims to increase the employability of graduating senior high school students across the country.
Senior high school participants are being enabled to attain digital literacy through training and certification. Moreover, their “soft skills” such as communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking would be developed. These twin programs would certainly enhance their employability.
Many enlightened employers have also taken the initiative to reengineer work systems in response to the acceleration of digital transformation across industries. Hybrid working arrangements also require that managers reset and recalibrate their supervisory methods, considering the changing nature of work and the increased empowerment of employees who are allowed and enabled to work from home. The IT-BPM sector is a prime role model. Shortly after the national health emergency was declared two years ago, most operations shifted to a work-from-home mode with sustained efficiency.
TESDA, like DepEd, is also focusing on reskilling and upskilling. Its ‘Abot Lahat’ (Reach All) program seeks to provide learning opportunities for displaced migrant workers, those who lost jobs due to lockdowns, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and senior high school students aspiring to get employed. Some 70 online courses are available for those seeking to equip themselves with employable skills or venture into micro-enterprises like online selling.
Through reskilling and upskilling programs, alternative forms of livelihood, entrepreneurship and self-employment will create new pathways for enabling tens of thousands of Filipinos to cope with the pandemic and lead more productive lives.