Mission: Retrofit humans


AFTER suffering a major blow from the outbreak of Covid-19 last year, the government’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs are finally showing signs of recovery and even improvement.

Just like its enrollees, the program is now also trying to reinvent itself to meet the changing demands of the labor market amid and beyond the pandemic.

Data from the Technical and Education Skills Development Authority (Tesda) showed the number of its scholars shrank to 802,000 last year from 2.489 million in 2019. The 2020 figure was nearly half of the 1.6 million enrollees in 2010.

Tesda Regional Operations and Management Office Director-in-Charge Angelina Carreon said their training facilities and those of their partner institutions were not spared by the business disruptions brought about by the quarantine and movement restrictions during the pandemic.

“Last year, there was no output in March, April and June. We did not have any output and the whole sector did not produce anything,” Carreon told the BusinessMirror in a phone interview.

She said the enrollees returned in July 2020, when the government eased quarantine restrictions initially for some priority sectors like construction and agriculture.

This year, more programs were allowed to resume, but due to the tough quarantine restrictions, Carreon said only an estimated 894,000 trainees are expected to graduate from TVET courses.

Slow, costly recovery

The reopening of the training facilities of Tesda and its partner private institutions did not come easy as they were required to make changes in their training method and adopt stringent safety protocols.

“In 2020, we saw that 100 percent of our service providers, especially the private TVET providers, were badly affected by the pandemic,” Carreon said.

“Then we told them to upgrade their facilities not just their ICT [information and communications technology] but also their workshops,” she added.

Trainers were also required to upgrade their knowledge so they could offer virtual classes, which became mandatory as the government discouraged mass gatherings.

Financial aid

To help the cash-strapped training institutions go through the necessary transition, Carreon said Tesda opted to reimburse the training cost of all students, including those who were unable to complete their programs.

Prior to the pandemic, training centers received reimbursement from Tesda only for trainees who were able to graduate from their chosen programs.

To allow the said facilities to continue operating in the pandemic, Carreon said they started paying training facilities whose trainees completed at least 50 percent of the training period.

As for the trainees themselves, Tesda provided all of them with a daily allowance of P160, a benefit usually given to just a few, to dissuade them from dropping out of their chosen TVET program during the pandemic.

“We cleared these measures with the COA [Commission on Audit],” Carreon said.

Online training

Despite the negative feedback it got from its private partners, Tesda’s introduction of online training was mostly successful.

Last year, 44 percent of the training provided by Tesda and its partners were through blended learning—a combination of face-to-face and virtual classes, while 2 percent were pure online classes. More than half were delivered in face-to-face classes.

Prior to the pandemic, Carreon said their effort to persuade their partners to adopt online training hardly gained traction as many of them still opted to go with face-to-face classes.

“We were encouraged to offer TVET institutions online but it was only during the pandemic when it blossomed. The providers were pushed to implement this kind, ’yung blended and flexible learning system,” Carreon said.

Paradigm shift

Even after the pandemic, Tesda said it plans to continue using online training due to its “inherent” advantages. Unlike onsite classes, where training time was limited, Carreon said online courses offered unlimited interaction between the trainers and their students.

Trainers are also able to reach more students, at least in areas with good Internet access, while students are able to get much needed personalized training.

“You cannot go back to the pre-pandemic mode. It is better for all since it is more flexible for learners and trainers,” Carreon said.

The Tesda official said they are currently trying to measure the competency as well as employability of their first batch of online graduates last year through their 2021 Study on Employment of TVET Graduates. Results of the study are expected to come out next year.

Aside from training, Carreon said Tesda is also eyeing digital solutions to address the gaps in their system, particularly for registration, assessment, and for tracking the qualification of their TVET graduates.

She said the agency plans to introduce biometrics registration and enrollment for their scholarship beneficiaries using facial recognition software to finally get rid of “ghost scholars.”

Tesda’s online assessment and its proposed “skills passport” to keep track of trainees’ credentials —making it easier and cheaper for them to access skills training—are in the works. The skills passport, Carreon said, is funded by the P80-million budget given to Tesda to upgrade its ICT capabilities.

All of these initiatives are expected to be piloted and rolled out by next year.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) welcomed Tesda’s initiatives to beef up its TVET services, as these will be crucial to address the massive changes in the labor markets.

Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay reiterated that the pandemic hastened the arrival in the country of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by the introduction of new technology, such as automation, artificial intelligence, three-dimensional printing and other innovations in the labor market.

She noted that the trend could lead to the displacement of unskilled or low-skilled workers as companies start availing themselves of labor-saving technologies.

“They are least likely to participate in the labor market because of their [low] capacity and skills. So it will limit their opportunity in the labor market,” Tutay said in an interview.

High-skilled jobs

In contrast, the labor official noted the shift toward a high-tech workplace will also translate to more new job opportunities for high-skilled workers.

“We really need to produce skilled workers now since most of the tasks in many industries are now aided by technology,” Tutay said.

She said this is apparent in labor-intensive industries like construction, manufacturing, and even in the information technology-business process management (IT-BPM) sector.

In such industries, she said repetitive tasks are now delegated to new technology, while the creative aspects of the operation are assigned to skilled workers.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said some companies are already trying to address this by upskilling their existing workforce.

“There are ongoing skilling up and multiskilling [trainings for] our electronics, banking, garment and food union workers. Even before the pandemic there was such training. But the pandemic heightened it,” said TUCP Spokesperson Alan Tanjusay.

Skills shortage

Tutay highlighted risks that may arise from the failure of educational and training institutions to produce enough skilled workers needed by industries.

For one, she said this may prompt some companies that have the necessary capital to further invest in labor-saving devices, while others may look into hiring more skilled foreign workers.

Tanjusay said his group observed some companies in the electronics, banking, food and garment industries have started increasing automation in their system during the pandemic.

He also expressed concern over the possible entry of more foreign workers in the country, despite the fact that many Filipinos remain unemployed.

“That is why we are strongly pushing for government policy and control of the influx of foreign workers,” Tanjusay said.

NERS component

Tutay said the government is now trying to mitigate the said risks from a possible skills shortage via its National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS) launched in May.

A major component of the comprehensive plan, which consolidated the existing programs of various government agencies to counter the negative effects of the pandemic on the labor market, is to ramp up skills training.

Carreon confirmed this, saying Tesda’s funds for its skills training and scholarship programs are now part of the NERS implementation.

Tesda has a proposed budget of P17.76 billion for next year. Of which, over P10 billion will be allocated for the agency’s scholarship program.

Carreon noted the additional funds coupled with their ongoing digital innovations could help them meet the industries’ demand for skilled workers next year.

Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa Secretary General Joshua Mata said they welcome government initiatives to boost TVET availability, especially if its beneficiaries will be paid during their training.

“Ramping up training is important because usually only big companies who are able to afford it conduct training,” Mata said.

Image courtesy of Suwin Puengsamrong | Dreamstime.com

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