Filipino graduates face tough economy

It is graduation season in the Philippines, and one can’t help but wax nostalgic about youthful indulgences and daydreams about making it to the top. Unlike Saudi nationals whose own government has made it a mission to “nationalize” the workplace, in the Philippines, the jobless compete not only with each other but also with those returning from abroad as well as hundreds of thousands of fresh graduates. Unfortunately, our society has an unspoken rule of favoring young applicants over the more experienced, but older ones. The Philippines has no law against age discrimination in the workplace. The economic burden has shifted to the shoulders of the youth.

I am sure that Filipinos in Saudi Arabia have their own stories to tell about sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and even grandkids who are new graduates. One needs only to look at the timelines and newsfeeds on Facebook to see graduation pictures galore, with the parents standing right beside the latest star in the family. Why not? When our kids graduate, we, too, get an invisible diploma for a job well done, as parents.

What are our own local graduates up against? First, most of the available jobs are in the service sector — a sector notorious for contractual employment, meaning seasonal, low-paying, non-permanent positions. Unless the Philippines attracts more foreign investors able to build plants and factories to manufacture products, then our economy will be largely fueled by dollar remittances from overseas workers, business process outsourcing companies, and election-spending that would likely begin next year, for the run-up to the 2016 national and local elections.

Second, our economy is easily battered by natural disasters, with the previous super typhoon that landed in the Eastern Visayas region physically wiping out thousands of lives, homes, and even the most basic infrastructure. In Asia, the Philippines appears to be the sweet spot of calamities ranging from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions and the annual encounters with storms and floods.

Third, the income disparities between and among social economic classes continue to widen, leaving the mega elite business people competing amongst themselves while the never-haves and have-nots struggle to buy basic commodities, one sachet at a time.

The Philippine government is doing its best, unleashing billions of pesos in infrastructure development meant to pump-prime the economy. The tourism sector is bullish given the sharp rise in both local and foreign tourism revenues. Still, persistent problems that have been around for decades require drastic reforms to make for a more competitive Philippines. The global economy has yet to kick in, weighed down as it is by financial woes and political upheavals that have struck other countries.

Filipino graduates circa 2014 would have to dig in their heels and work hard not only to get a job but also to keep it. Reality bites, and quite a few of these graduates would have to settle for jobs that have no connection at all to the course they took.

I would not recommend that fresh graduates leave for abroad, and work in non-skilled, household-based positions so far away from home. I would also not recommend that a new graduate work for someone in the family, as a favor and concession, rather than as a training ground for upward mobility within a family enterprise.

Mentors abound in the private sector, and it is good for young people to take supervision from a complete stranger; from someone who has invested years of experience and rendered loyal service to a company. After all, there are no inferior jobs, only superior dreams, and nothing must stop a fresh graduate from learning to fail in order to know the difference when he or she finally succeeds.

Arab News link: Filipino graduates face tough economy

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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