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Philippines labor slump hits graduates hard

Degrees no longer guarantee a better future

<p>Nursing graduates take their oath in Manila. (File photo by Buck Pago)</p>

Nursing graduates take their oath in Manila. (File photo by Buck Pago)

  • Joe Torres, Ronald Reyes, and Eli Sepe, Manila
  • Philippines
  • April 3, 2014
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Kristene Joy Alas is on her way to receiving her diploma in business administration from a university in Manila this week. She plans to work in an office and earn enough money to send to her family back home in Leyte province.

"I know it’s not easy to get a job, but if you're really that person who is motivated and dedicated, I think you’ll get lucky," the 21-year-old says.

Edmir Gutierrez Capuno, who received a bachelor's in communication arts from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, shares the same optimism.

"I’m planning to apply for a job that fits me. One should be comfortable and happy to perform it," he adds.

Edmir hopes to be a news reporter. “I am confident that the university where I graduated taught me the skills and values needed in facing the real world. I guess I can find a job right away,” he says.

But is there really a choice for the students, numbering around 700,000, who are expected to graduate this April?

Government statistics show that the number of educated young people is rising, but so is unemployment.

As of January, the Philippines unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent, up from 6.5 percent in the previous period and 7.1 percent a year ago. The figures translate to about 2.96 million unemployed people.

Of that total, 15-to-24-year-olds comprise 48.2 percent, while those between 25 and 34 comprise 29.9 percent, meaning most new graduates end up unemployed. About 20 percent of the unemployed are college graduates, 13.3 percent are college undergraduates and 34 percent are high school graduates.

Graduation from college in the Philippines is a rite of passage, a milestone celebrated with feasts and parties that cost thousands of pesos. It is a turning point for many families whose only dream is to see their children graduate and find a job.

"I can now rest," says a dad of three graduates in the middle of a drinking session to celebrate his children's graduation in the province of Bataan.

For many Filipino graduates, a college diploma used to be a ticket to a job that can pay for the debts the family incurred. 

But Alan Tanjusay, spokesman of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, says: "It’s not easy to dampen the hopes of new graduates, but we do not see college graduates finding jobs right away."

Gerard Seno, executive vice president of the Associated Labor Unions, blames the "ineffective implementation" of job generating programs, specifically for the manufacturing and agriculture sector, as one of the major causes of unemployment.

“It suggests that many investors are reluctant to invest because the concerned government actors failed to act on the high cost of electricity, the lack of basic modern infrastructures, rampant smuggling, changing rules, declining peace and order, graft and corruption, and judicial red tape,” Seno says.

"Are there available jobs for the graduates?" asks Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose, member of the bishops' Commission on Youth. "We are sad because we know that most of them won’t be able to find work."

The country’s Catholic bishops have repeatedly called on the government to address the country's unemployment problem.

Unemployment among youth is widespread not only in the Philippines but throughout Asia and the Pacific. This is mainly due to the failure of many graduates to develop the right skills for today's job market.

A study by the Asian Development Bank in December noted that global youth unemployment (12.6 percent) is three times more than the rate of global adult unemployment (4.5 percent).

Many young people say they can't find jobs because they do not have "experience, skills, contacts, awareness of job availability and means to travel to work,” the study said.

The government is pushing for the popularization of technical education to encourage young Filipinos to develop skills to access available employment.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority said it is creating jobs with two percent employment growth. The authority estimates that about 1 million people, many of whom are skilled workers who did not finish college, leave the country every year to find work overseas.

Independent think-tank IBON Foundation says "job scarcity in the country is pushing more Filipino workers into low paid, insecure and poor quality jobs".

Ann Hingpis who has to stop her studies due to "economic reasons" says "faith and prayer" will ultimately save her from unemployment.

"I've been through more difficult situations," she says.

The future might not be rosy for Kristene, Edmir, and Armand, but they continue to hope for the best.

"It is survival of the fittest," Kristene says .

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