21st century skills and Philippine competitiveness


Monchito Ibrahim

The exponential pace of change in the technology space is profoundly disrupting industrial processes and value chains making it much more difficult for industries to compete in a globalized economy. We are now seeing companies challenged by two major choices: adapt or face a slow death. With adaption, it would usually mean digitally transforming the enterprise to make it more agile, more productive, and competitive, to maintain its position in the global value chain.In the end, globally competitive industries will make the country better able to capture a bigger slice of the international market. The Philippines is considered today a global leader in the IT-enabled services sector, maybe the only segment where it is still showing decent growth. What is it doing to sustain this global leadership position?

The Philippines has to move into becoming a knowledge economy to retain and even expand our shares in the global market. Country competitiveness is no longer just about lower production costs, industrial policies, and availability of material inputs. In this digital age, it also includes workforce skills, how those skills are used, and policies related to having the skills needed by industries and global value chains. These call for initiatives to produce high-value skills and capabilities. To be competitive, the country needs to have a robust and market-driven skills development system.

Although the government is expected to take the lead, all key players such as the industries and academe will have to step up and work together for these initiatives to become meaningful and effective. Leading economies that have been successful in anticipating global economic trends have also managed to develop effective skills development programs. We could cite the initiatives implemented by Korea and Singapore. Both countries have been able to link their systems to the priorities of their national economic development plans.

I am pleased to note that DTI recently partnered with the Singapore SkillsFuture, a government program designed to reskill every citizen, regardless of their educational and professional status, and make them ready for 21st Century jobs. These jobs will be created by new industries intended to drive Singapore’s next phase of development towards an advanced economy and inclusive society. The partnership will involve assistance from Singapore in the development of the Philippine Skills Framework (PSF).

Having a skills framework would provide employers, learning institutions, and workers with a common reference to ensure the match between jobs and skills. The Philippines is expected to benefit from the experience of Singapore in the development of its own framework while taking into consideration the conditions of local industries and the current level of skills and competencies of workers. The PSF Initiative is an inter-agency effort and will involve the development of sector-specific skills frameworks that will guide Filipino workers in enhancing their skills for particular job roles. As an example, the DICT is tasked to work on the development of the skills framework for analytics and artificial intelligence in collaboration with the Analytics Association of the Philippines (AAP).

Other government agencies and private sector organizations are also stepping up with their own programs to upskill Filipino workers although most, if not all, of them, will also be involved with the PSF initiative. TESDA has recently partnered with the AAP, designating the latter as the national Industry Board for Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. As an Industry Board, AAP is expected to help TESDA in the design, development, and implementation of industry-driven technical education programs for the sector.

The DOST for its part has a program called Smarter Philippines through Data Analytics, R&D, Training and Adoption or SPARTA in partnership with AAP, the Development Academy of the Philippines, and Coursebank. It aims to train and graduate 30,000 learners in Data Science and Analytics through online learning. This is going to help address the huge demand for data-related professionals in the country as highlighted in the recently released labor market intelligence report conducted by the Philippine Business for Education and AAP.

CHED also recently approved the policies, standards, and guidelines (PSG) that will allow HEIs to offer a two-year Associate in Computer Technology (ACT) Program.It is also aimed at helping address the growing gap in the supply of competent workers in the technology sector. The ACT graduates are expected to be equipped with specific skills for entry into computing and computing-related professions.

The learners may choose from among several areas of specialization like service management, user experience / user interface, and data engineering. CHED is also currently developing an undergraduate program called Bachelor of Science in Data Science. In partnership with the IT and  Business Process Association of the Philippines, it is working on a bridging program for graduating students to ensure that they possess industry-relevant skills needed by the sector and increase their employability.

A well-planned national skills strategy with an emphasis on high-value skills will help push the Philippines into becoming a knowledge economy, improve its competitiveness, and advance economic development. And with the government, industry, and academe closely working together, the chances of getting there are much better.

(The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, UP System Information Technology Foundation. Email: mon.ibrahim@aap.ph)