I had two great news that made me smile last week. Both would be critical to the future of the Philippines as a global hub for digital workers.
The first one is the news that Senate Bill 1834: Philippine Digital Workforce Competitiveness Act which was principally authored by Senators Sonny Angara and Joel Villanueva, was approved by the Senate on third and final reading. Adding to this good news is the fact that the House of Representatives has adopted the Senate’s version of the bill. With these developments, the bill can now be transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s signature. What makes this legislation very significant for preparing our country and its people for the future is the fact that it provides a development framework that will help ensure that Filipinos are equipped with digital and 21st century skills, globally competitive, and ready to take on the jobs of the future.
Before the week ended, IBPAP, the umbrella organization covering all the IT and BPO-related sub-sectors announced the final 2021 figures in terms of revenues and new jobs added to the sector. Amazingly, despite the challenges related to the pandemic, the sector was able to achieve almost 11 percent increase in revenue to $29.5 billion surpassing the target set for the year. In addition, almost 120,000 new jobs were added during the year bringing the total FTEs of the sector to 1.44 million, also surpassing the target of 1.43 million employee headcount. Wonderful news indeed.
IBPAP attributes this astounding growth to several factors: increased demand from global customers, wider acceptance of and confidence in WHF setups and growth in emerging sub-segments like e-commerce, fintech, healthcare and technology. Personally, I also attribute it to the way Philippine service providers quickly adjusted to the pandemic situation such as the shift to a WFH setup because of the lockdowns. The circumstances may even have accelerated the development of new digital skills among our workforce and opened more doors of opportunity for the Philippine players. A WFH setup may need special set of skills to build confidence in their clients and ensure continuity of operations.
What is significant is the fact that a huge portion of the current workforce of the sector is based in the provinces. In a recent conversation I had with Jack Madrid, president and CEO of IBPAP, almost 40 percent of these FTEs are in places outside of Metro Manila including those who are working from home far from city centers. The economic impact to the countryside is tremendous when we consider that most of these workers may be receiving the same salary rates as their Metro Manila counterparts. From their salaries alone, I assume that they generate enough economic activities in the provinces that may be offsetting the negative impact of the pandemic. And based on the provincial travels I have taken; this sector has profoundly changed how our regional cities look today. Talk of nation building and countryside development. That is a perfectuse case of bringing the high paying jobs to where the talents are.
There is no question that the growth of the Philippine IT-BPM sector can be attributed to its highly skilled workforce among other reasons. Filipino talents are known for being caring, possessing high digital skills, team players and able to communicate in English well. These are attributes that differentiates them from those of our major competitors. But we need to realize that a few of our Filipino workers are now directly working for foreign IT-BPM companies based in other countries without even leaving their homes because they are on a WFH setup. The global talent shortage as well as the preference for Filipino workers is driving this emerging situation.
It is becoming clear that there is now a global war for digitally skilled talents. Whether they are engineers, accountants, medical professionals or teachers, digital skills would open a lot of job opportunities for them today and the future. We need to continue producing more Filipino talents with digital skills if we want to see our global leadership in the IT-BPM sector sustained. There is also now a growing requirement for emerging and niche skills like artificial intelligence, cloud, analytics and especially cybersecurity. Developing certified professionals in these areas is badly needed today in the Philippine talent ecosystem. I am glad to see some schools such as the Asia Pacific College, in partnership with a leading cybersecurity outfit from Israel, offer a certification program for cybersecurity professionals that is tailor fitted to the unique needs of corporate entities such as financial institutions.
This is where the Philippine Digital Workforce Competitiveness Act is supposed to come into play. It is intended to institutionalize a whole-of-nation initiative to promote, develop, enhance the competitiveness of the Philippine digital workforce. The future of the Philippine IT-BPM sector will be dependent on the country’s ability to take advantage of emerging trends of the digital world. I pray that the current President signs it into law before he steps down.
(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.)
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