LABOR  DAY  BLUES

MANILA, MAY 1, 2009
(STAR)  BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - The global financial crisis has reached out its dreaded tentacles to every Filipino employed overseas and those aspiring to find work abroad.

If it is any consolation, compared to the US which now has chalked 6.1 million Americans as without a source of livelihood, ours is about 1.26 million, or 7.7 percent, compared to 7.4 percent over the same period last year. Metro Manila recorded the highest unemployment rate at 14 percent.

Most of the unemployed were high school graduates (32.7 percent), followed by college undergraduates (22.2 percent) and college graduates (18.3 percent).

Government, largely through the Department of Labor and Employment, has been very visible promoting employment opportunities through job fairs and stepping up foreign diplomacy efforts to increase overseas employment in countries least affected by the financial crisis.

It has also been actively offering (re)training programs for workers, especially those that have been recently laid off, or encouraging entrepreneurship for OFWs or their family members.

All these efforts apparently will fall short as the crisis continues and its effects linger on.

Focusing on the agri sector for jobs

One of the government’s shortcomings is its continuing inadequacy to open up more economic opportunities particularly for those in the countryside. It has failed to bring back on its feet a once thriving sector that could be the source of thousands of productive jobs – the agriculture sector.

Local and foreign experts have pinned hopes on the country’s recovery on a resurgent agriculture sector. Between agriculture and manufacturing, with the latter struggling against China’s dominance, the former stands as a better and more stable job generator.

Under the government’s hyped Medium Term Development Plan 2004-2010, the development of two million hectares of agricultural land through multi-cropping, is a quintessential strategy to open up millions of new jobs nationwide.

The plan is also aimed at cultivating idle and marginal lands, expanding aquaculture capabilities and production and creating and developing value-added end products backstopped by modern packaging and agro-processing technologies.

If only such plans are eventually carried out, then thousands of job-seekers would no longer be squeezing their way to Metro Manila and competing for scarce job opportunities.

The million peso question remains, where are we in so far as these rosy development plans are concerned?

Mismatch in job markets

Another area that needs serious attention and action by education officials in government and stakeholders in the private sector is the proper matching of the education programs with the skills required from the workforce in the marketplace. We have too many nurses, lawyers and masscom graduates who are applying for just any job.

The mismatch problem clearly leads to wastage of resources. And this issue of job mismatch between the human resource development providers (schools, universities) and industries has just been the subject of meetings spearheaded by the National Economic Development Authority to map out action programs to address these concerns.

There are now talks about coupling mechanisms such as industry linkages, institutionalized career guidance, job opportunity orientation for college graduates and skills inventory and manpower forecasting to be undertaken by the human resource development providers and the business/market sectors.

Oh well, better late than never.

Encouraging entrepreneurship

Lastly, with the financial crisis showing no signs of easing up any time soon, the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit among Filipinos must all the more be encouraged.

It is, however, discouraging to note that we rank very low in terms of being business friendly. Compared to other countries, entrepreneurs and investors undergo more steps in order to set up a business. We have higher and even arbitrary taxes slapped on the struggling entrepreneur.

There are several reports of some local government and revenue officials who make it their habit to harass small- and medium-sized business owners. Petty corruption is a fact that many of these entrepreneurs just accept as part of the cost of doing business.

No wonder that many Filipinos are hesitant to venture into business, or to bring their underground micro-business into the mainstream.

Small businesses as employment provider

It is true that the underground economy is a good source of employment opportunities. More so if these underground economic activities are formally recognized and provided assistance as legitimate micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs).

However, these MSMEs are continually hobbled by credit since few banks are willing to lend to them sizeable sums needed to expand operations. As a result, these businesses remain small and eventually fade away.

By encouraging and supporting micro, small and medium size enterprises business enterprises and allowing them to grow, not only are more employment opportunities made available, the contribution of this sector to the overall economy becomes more and more significant.

And then, we may perhaps look to the future as a country that can comfortably rely on its own economic hustle and bustle – and less from the income of our countrymen that we see off our airports daily for jobs overseas.

In the meantime, today is Labor Day, if only to remind us of the workers’ “blues” that permeates the air.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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