How to build skills for prosperity

There’s no question: Knowledge capital is fundamentally important for the growth of a country. How has the Philippines fared?

While the country has made significant strides, it still has a long way to go. Increasing knowledge capital requires an interrelated set of solutions that involves employers, workers, educators and government agencies working together to align education and training to national competitiveness needs. We need to do more in this regard.

Some context: The Philippines has achieved almost universal Grade 1 enrollment, yet only half finish high school. Half of the 2.32 million unemployed Filipinos have at least some college education; majority are 15-25 years old. College is now free, but slots are limited and the poor have long dropped off before they reach college eligibility.The world of work is rapidly changing. Industry 4.0 is seen to put over 48 percent of job functions at risk for automation in the next five years, according to the Asian Development Bank. CEOs foresee a workplace where humans will closely work with machines and artificial intelligence to mutually augment productivity.

How do we then build knowledge capital in the context of an education system that still faces the challenge of keeping learners in school and providing them with relevant skills to succeed in a changing workplace? To align education and national competitive goals, we propose a national workforce development agenda that involves all sectors of society and prioritizes three key factors.

A workforce development agenda’s success hinges on the quality of the data that is used to inform it. Data are foundational in understanding labor availability and shortages, and forecasting workforce demands. Singapore, for example, uses big data to inform investments and subsidies in training. This information is also made available to the public, so that people can make informed choices on the skills they should be learning.

We have the foundations of a labor market intelligence system through the efforts of the Department of Labor and Employment. The private sector can participate by articulating employment demands and projections at a sectoral level. This way, we can achieve a robust system that informs the decisions of all players, whether at a policy, institutional or individual level.

Given their dependency on the quality of talent, employers should be involved in the creation of standards, curriculum and delivery. The Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority allow for industry participation in the review and development of curriculum, standards and training regulations. These spaces for participation, however, largely depend on who sits in these curricular bodies. There is currently no policy that institutionalizes industry representation in standards setting and curriculum design.

Industry involvement in delivering education and training is just as important, which is what we see in countries with low youth unemployment like Germany and Australia. Some sectors, like the ITBPO and semiconductor industry, actively develop programs and roll them out in partner schools, but we need more sectors to do the same. The nature of the workplace precipitates the blurring of school and work lines, allowing for learners to smoothly move from school to work and vice versa.

Partnerships matter in an unpredictable world. A workforce development agenda should be driven by multisectoral partnerships that push for policies fostering collaboration, innovations in training, and the creation of high-value jobs. A National Industry Academe Council composed of 25 business and school leaders is leading the conversation around aligning education to the economy’s needs. There are also good examples of local government industry academe councils, like the one in Iloilo City, that are working to address local development and competitiveness needs.

Indeed, much can still be done in building our knowledge capital. We need to step back and take a more strategic approach. By putting a national workforce development agenda in place, we can ensure that all sectors are involved, and efforts are aligned toward goals that result in inclusive economic growth.

Originally published at Business Matters column. Business Matters is a project of Makati Business Club.

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