Message to Millennials and Centennials

Published June 14, 2022, 12:02 AM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

Part 4

In working for the common good of Philippine society, there is much room for volunteer work in social enterprises and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as those that will be advocated by the Angat Buhay movement that outgoing VP Leni Robredo will be inaugurating on July 1, 2022.  I cannot overemphasize, however, that those in their twenties and early thirties—the millennials and centennials-can make the greatest contribution to the common good by excelling in whatever occupation or profession they may choose after they finish their formal education.  As a lifetime educator, I have always reminded my students that extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are fine.  But the greatest social responsibility of a student is to do well in his or her studies.  We can say the same thing about yuppies who have finished their formal education.  Volunteer work is fine but you contribute most to the common good by the day to day work you do, as you constantly improve your knowledge and skills and consider whatever you are doing in your daily work as a service to society.

As a guide to the  choice of an occupation or profession for the younger members of the centennial generation who are still in high school and those who have already finished their formal education but are still flexible enough to choose work that may not be directly related to what they studied in college, let me enumerate some of the economic sectors and industries that will be most needed by the Philippine economy as we transition from a low-middle income economy to an upper-middle income economy in the next few years (in fact, NEDA Director General Karl Chua has prognosticated that this will happen as early as next year, 2023).  Since the pandemic has reinforced the need for food security and food sovereignty, our greatest need for human resources is in the wide field of agribusiness (which comprises not only farming but the whole value chain involved in food security, i.e. post-harvest, cold storage, logistics, food processing, and food retailing).  In fact, the yuppies who work for Mayani, the social enterprise we described above, come from very diverse undergraduate backgrounds and many of them did not study agriculture.

            Agribusiness will be the largest sector of the economy and we will need many millennials and centennials to devote their talents to this sector in one form or another.  In addition to helping the millions of small farmers improve their incomes through social enterprises like Mayani and Iskaparate.com as well as movements like MentorMe and Angat Lahat, we need skilled professionals and technicians to actually provide such resources as farm-to-market roads (e.g. civil engineers), irrigation systems (mechanical and electrical engineers), fertilizers (chemical engineers), and so on and so forth.  But above all, we will need some of our more educated millennials and centennial to actually go into high-value farming themselves to apply more advanced technology in the growing of vegetables, fruits, flowers and other agricultural commodities that require higher level of investments and technology that only those from the upper-middle income household can afford to supply.  In other words, I would like that those who have become “plantitos” and “plantitas” during the pandemic, whatever their professional training could have been in the past, totake farming more seriously as a business and contribute to food security or sovereignty (we need not import vegetables in which we have a competitive advantage in producing).

            We need millennials and centennials (you don’t have to wait till you are about to retire at the age of 60 or 65) to go into high-value farming.  You can upskill or reskill yourselves by taking short courses or webinars from such technology companies as Harbest or East West Seed on the technology of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, livestock,etc.)  For example, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) just organized a webinar recently in which the resource speaker, Juan Miguel Araneta, is an advocate of integrated farming.  The Forum, regularly organized by the Agribusiness and Countryside Foundation, Inc. of the MAP, is an effective channel for upskilling or retooling professionals who have no background In agriculture but would like to venture into agribusiness.  For example, JM Araneta, who himself did not study agriculture formally (he is an Ateneo alumnus and took MBA courses in the U.S.) is now Chairman and President of WOW Farms which runs the WOW Training Center.  There those who want to venture into agribusiness can acquire the necessary skills and expertise in the growing of freerange chicken, vegetables, fruits, fish in ponds, and other high-value crops, using one’s own or leased lands.  Millennials and centennials who want to make a contribution to food security in the Philippines can reinvent themselves and acquire the necessary skills to produce high-value food products the demand for which usually grows exponentially when a country graduates from a low-income economy to an upper-middle income one.  Middle-income households consume much less carbohydrates like rice and corn and other basic food products compared to the those with lower incomes. I advise those with interest in high-value farming to join the webinars organized by the ABDC Foundation of the MAP.

            Yuppies from the middle class deciding to become agripreneurs can also contribute to reducing rural poverty.  Whether you own or lease the land for your agribusiness ventures, you will have to hire farm hands.  Despite the use of high technology, the growing of vegetables, fruits and livestock can still be labor-intensive, thus requiring the recruiting of the unemployed or underemployed manpower that is abundant” in the rural areas.  Our underemployment rate is as high as 15%

            In fact, I foresee that the education sector in the Philippines will undergo a significant transformation in the coming years with less and less emphasis on degree courses and more and more on non-formal and informal means of acquiring marketable skills through short courses, webinars and on-the-job training schemes.  A patriotic service that yuppies can render to the country is to help remove the irrational bias our society has developed against blue collar skills such as those needed in the construction sector.  Our Build, Build, Build program is being endangered by a serious shortage of carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, painters and similar skilled workers because of the penchant of the youth to acquire college diplomas which often do not lead to their being employed.  If we want our economy to transition to a high-income economy, we must first complete Industrial Revolution 1.0  (mechanization) and Industrial Revolution 2.0 (electrification) before we can go full blast into Industrial Revolution 4.0 (digitalization).  I hope to see the day when children from middle-income households will decide to study in tech-voc schools to become electro-mechanical workers, electricians, plumbers, etc. rather than pursue a college degree.  It is not too late for some of the  millennials and centennials to go into occupations where they will dirty their hands in farms and factories rather than work in air-conditioned offices.President Xi Ji Ping of China has already realized the possible imbalance in the Chinese labor force and has already mandated the adoption of the “numerus clausus” policy that prevailed in Europe:  only a small fraction of secondary school graduates were admitted into the universities.  The majority of the youth were expected to acquire technical skills in tech-voc schools.

            In addition to food and agribusiness, other sectors which will have bright prospects for both entrepreneurship and employment are health and wellness, the IT or digital sector, tourism and hospitality, logistics, fintech, and real estate (especially economic and low cost housing).  Whatever the current millennials and centennials took as their undergraduate courses, these are the “sunrise” industries which are worth reskilling, upskilling or retooling for through short courses and skills training programs that will be increasingly available, including in the almost unlimited opportunities available online.  For example, I know of a good number of yuppies who have learned culinary arts, fashion design or animation through online courses.  Those who graduate from senior high school have a much wider choice of ways other than getting a college diploma to attain knowledge and develop skills that will prepare them for earning a living.  To be continued.

 
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