What Awaits Graduates?

What Awaits Graduates?

Whither the 2014 graduate?
By Prof. Leonor M. Briones, Chairperson, Board of Trustees

(The same article appeared recently in the column of Professor Briones in The Manila Times.)

The months of March, April and May are happy months for many Filipino families. It is not only because these are holiday months. These are also graduation months when young graduates march out of school, and look forward to exciting jobs and great careers. These are the months when proud parents watch their children receive their diplomas and tell themselves that their years of suffering and sacrifice are finally over. They tell themselves they are now relieved of the burden of feeding, sheltering and shouldering the education of their children.

What awaits the 2014 graduate?

When my son graduated from UP after four years of hard work, he did nothing for one month but eat and sleep, sleep and eat. When I advised him to go out and find a job, he answered, mag PMA muna ako, Mama. My answer:” “Whaat? You can’t take another course!” His answer: Mag PMA ako — pahinga muna, anak.”

Most parents will not let their children take PMA. They expect them to look for a job, pronto.

How many belong to the class of 2014? According to the Commission on Higher Education 527,425 students graduated from institutions of higher learning in 2012. This huge number does not include graduates of technical and vocational schools. Thus, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines estimates that all in all, around 700,000 graduates will join the labor force in 2014. Most of them will be seeking jobs.

After all the sacrifice and suffering, does graduation mean that the graduate is now qualified to land a good job? Not necessarily. Most quality jobs require a license. Unlike before, graduates of education have to pass licensure examinations to be able to teach. The same goes for graduates of accountancy, engineering, architecture, nutrition, physical therapy, nursing, medical technology, medicine, dentistry and other fields. Even the graduate of agriculture has to pass licensure examinations if he wants to work with the government.

Graduation, despite the pomp, tears of joy, and lavish celebrations, only leads to the next step which is securing a license. For the exhausted parents, this means financing one more year of reviews, exams and the tortured waiting for results.

What does the employment picture look like?

As of January 2014, the unemployment rate of the Philippines rose from 7.1% to 7.5% even as the gross domestic product has been rising and the economy is growing.

As of 2014, labor force totalled 39.6 million Filipinos, according to government figures. Of this number, 2.96 million are unemployed. If we add the 700,000 new graduates the number of jobseekers could rise to 3.66 million. Can the economy raise nearly 4 million jobs this year?

In addition to the unemployed, there are 7 million persons who are underemployed and are possibly seeking full-time employment.

Another piece of uncomfortable information on the employment situation: of those who are employed, only 23-25% are in the formal sector while 75-77% are in the informal sector. This means that three-fourths of those who are employed are not protected at all—by laws on security of tenure, decent salaries, health and educational benefits, etc.

Thus, a new graduate looking for a job would more likely land in the informal sector, unless he is in a profession which is in very high demand.

When my niece graduated from Silliman University last March, she appropriately announced in her FB account: “I am proud to announce that I have just joined the ranks of the unemployed!”

Alternatives for the new graduate

Graduates who have the good fortune of taking up courses which are in high demand will have good jobs waiting for them. Just before the graduation season, big companies, especially multinationals, usually scour the leading universities and hold job fairs. They skim off the very best graduates and offer them jobs before they even graduate.

Marine engineering and marine transportation also offer very attractive job opportunities. Those who enjoy scholarships from shipping companies already have jobs waiting for them.

Unfortunately, these companies can only absorb a small portion of the graduates and cannot make a dent on the huge inventory of unemployed and underemployed.

According to the World Bank, about 200,000 of new entrants to the labor force will find jobs abroad. As we all know, working abroad, especially for low-skill workers like domestic househelp, drivers, and utility workers can have tremendous social costs.

College graduates who dream of cushy, well paid jobs in large companies and government offices end up in the informal sector. Thus, we have nursing graduates working as salesgirls, midwives serving as yayas, and teachers working as housekeepers. I even met an engineering graduate who worked as a caregiver because she could not afford the costs of taking licensure examinations and the exorbitant fees for going abroad.

Other graduates end up creating their own jobs–parttime engagements like tutoring, clerking, etc. Those who open up small businesses have to scrounge for startup capital.

The most unhappy situation is for a newly minted, dreaming graduate to end up unemployed. According to the World Bank, about 60,000 of them end up jobless.

Employment creation: a challenge to government

Obviously, this annual exercise of producing hundreds of thousands of dewy-eyed new graduates who end up adding to the increasing inventory of the desperately unemployed, cannot be continued.

As every knowledgeable argues, the problem of job creation is very complex. It goes back to the educational system and the kind of courses, as well as the quality of training. It goes back to chronic poverty which pushes desperate parents and students to substandard schools and low standards. It goes back to government economic and social policies which only increase the gross domestic product but does not create jobs. It goes back to government regulations which block creativity and innovation in business and government.

In the meantime, the dreams of the young continue to be smashed, even as parents break under the heavy yoke of spending for children who cannot find jobs.