EDITORIAL – Skills shortage

Amid the country’s 31-year record high economic growth last year, there is a recurring concern: can the growth be sustained? The international donor community, while lauding the country’s economic performance, has expressed concern about corruption, yawning income disparities and increasing poverty amid reports of plenty. Foreign organizations have also warned that corruption is driving away investors.

Now the Asian Development Bank has raised another alert: Asia faces a shortage of skilled workers, which could set back economic growth. Among these workers, the ADB reported, are accountants, airline pilots, business managers, engineers, lawyers, physicians, scientists and software specialists.

For countries such as China, the problem is considered a “symptom” of rapid economic growth, with the national workforce unable to meet an ever-increasing demand for certain skills. For countries such as the Philippines, where there aren’t enough investments to create a high job demand, the problem is traced largely to the unabated departure of workers for better paying jobs overseas. In recent years the shortage of teachers and health professionals has become more acute. Industries have also started complaining about the shortage of workers with specialized skills.

Nearly a tenth of the Philippine population is now overseas, and the number keeps growing. Last year labor officials reported that a million workers left for jobs overseas. Those workers have been remitting billions of dollars in earnings annually, accounting for a hefty chunk of economic growth figures. But the brain drain is taking its toll on the nation, with public education and health care taking the biggest hits. The poor quality of education has produced graduates who cannot meet the requirements for jobs that are available, including thousands of vacancies at call centers.

Workers’ migration is a global phenomenon. Rich countries can afford to hire foreigners for jobs that their own citizens are no longer keen on taking. Philippine nurses are in demand all over the world, and inner city schools in the United States are importing Filipinos to teach all types of subjects including English. But developing countries like the Philippines cannot afford to replace the workers who leave. Unless this problem is addressed soon, the negative impact will be reflected even in economic growth figures.

The Philippine Star


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