Global digitalization offers opportunities for Filipinos, advocacy group says

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    But quality of education must be improved to meet global labor demands

    RAPID digitalization of the services industry, even before the shift to remote work-from-home is offering more opportunities for skilled and English-savvy Filipinos. A report by the International Labor Organization called “World Employment and Social Outlook 2021” outlines how digital labor platforms have increased five-fold globally in the last decade.

    The report placed the Philippines second in the world in terms of meeting the global demand for virtual assistants, freelancers, and other online jobs. India is number one with $26 million revenues gained from digital labor platforms and accounted for almost 20 percent of the total market. The Philippines followed at US$16 million and Ukraine at US$13 million.

    This growth however is meaningless if the Philippines cannot respond to this need if the workforce is ill-equipped to meet the global demand.

    “While there is great labor demand in the global digital economy which Filipinos can take advantage of, we must focus on ensuring that future members of our workforce are coming into the world of work equipped with the skills they need to actually maximize these opportunities,” Justine Raagas, Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) director for workforce development said.

    Immediately after the pandemic started, more than 2.7 million Filipino students dropped out of school because they cannot meet the requirements of distance learning forced upon them. The reasons for dropping out included lack of access to devices needed for learning, poor Internet connections, and difficulty to cope up with the teaching-learning conditions forced upon them by the COVID-19 lockdowns.

    Latest international assessments of science, mathematics, and reading competency also showed an alarming decline in the academic performance of our students.

    “This has grave implications for the future of our workforce and their ability to become competitive in an increasingly globalized world of work.” Raagas said.

    The Department of Education has also tried to quickly cope up with the changes caused by the pandemic, but reports of ill-prepared modular materials, the inability to provide a large-scale device, and online access, particularly to public school students has greatly affected the education system since March last year.

    “We are appealing to the government to implement crucial measures so that our students can continue their learning. We must raise the quality of our education so that our graduates can lead meaningful and productive lives when they step out of the classroom,” Raagas requested.

    The situation has underlined the need for a part of the Philippine education system to become more attuned to the needs of the growing digital services market. It also calls for international policy dialogue and regulatory cooperation in order to provide decent work opportunities and foster the growth of sustainable businesses more consistently.

    “We are at risk of losing our competitiveness in the global market because of the current learning crisis negatively affecting our students,” PBEd Executive Director Love Basillote said.

    Raagas said Filipino workers stand to benefit from the growth in digital online jobs worldwide, owing to their English proficiency that allows them to communicate well with clients largely originating from Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    “Digital labor platforms are opening up opportunities that did not exist before, particularly for women, young people, persons with disabilities and marginalized groups in all parts of the world. That must be welcomed,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. He added that the new challenges they present can be met through global social dialogue so that workers, employers and governments can fully and equally benefit from these advances.

    Recently, PBed and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to launch A Future that Works (AFW) initiative that aims to develop Filipino workforce and address skills mismatch in the country. Other such initiatives and cooperation are needed to assure the local labor force can contribute positively and gainfully to the country.

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