Vibrant labor market
By Manny B. Villar
Many Filipinos are now finding good jobs without leaving the country. This is made possible by the sustained economic growth and the massive “Build, Build, Build” program of the administration of President Duterte.
I remember a few years ago that even teachers and other college graduates will leave their families to work as housemaids in the Middle East, Hong Kong and Singapore. This is no longer the case because our public school teachers, civil servants, soldiers, policemen and other government workers are now highly paid.
Although some Filipino women are still lured by recruitment agencies with false promises of high income overseas, many choose to stay in our country to work in rapidly growing sectors, such as business process outsourcing, hotel and restaurant industry, health care, and retail and services.
It does not make sense now for many Filipinos to work as a housemaid in another country just to make $200 or $300 a month when they can earn much more in major cities in the Philippines. Armed with proper education and training, they can work in more lucrative professions and earn over P20,000 ($400) a month in Metro Manila without leaving their families.
One benefit of the sustained economic growth is the generation of thousands of jobs. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that 1.3 million jobs were created over the past 12 months, bringing the unemployment rate to 5.2 percent in April 2019, the lowest in 40 years. The underemployment rate also decreased to 13.5 percent.
Our vibrant labor market is comprised of 42.2 million Filipinos with jobs, and it is growing steadily as more young Filipinos enter the market and more jobs are created, according to the PSA. The BPO sector, for one, employs 1.3 million Filipinos, most of them millennials.
Another sector that is opening a lot of job opportunities is the construction industry. Both private and public constructions are moving at a feverish pace, which is evident in the hundreds of cranes dotting the skyline of Metro Manila and other urban centers all over the country.
Many real-estate developers actually complain about the shortage in skilled workers even as they offer higher salaries to attract talents. These companies believe that there is a talent backlog in the construction sector. I believe this challenge, which is now felt industry-wide, will be a more serious problem in the years ahead as the government pursues major infrastructure projects, such as subways, railways, expressways and interisland bridges.
Reports that Chinese nationals are already working in the local construction industry to fill the talent gap only indicate that our labor market is becoming attractive even to foreign nationals. Whether this is true of not, it only shows that we need to train more Filipinos to catch up with the rising demand.
Obviously, infrastructure spending was a major contributor to the recent expansion of our labor market. The Department of Finance reported that infrastructure spending doubled from an average of only 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product in the past half century to 5.5 percent in 2018. The disparity was actually starker in absolute peso terms.
The GDP also grew by an average of 6.5 percent in the first 11 quarters of the Duterte administration despite the sluggish agriculture sector and higher global oil, and rice prices that led to a spike in inflation rate last year. With inflation rate returning to the government’s target range of 2 percent to 4 percent, the purchasing power of Filipino workers was restored. The ranks of the poor also dwindled in recent years as official data show that poverty incidence dropped from 27.6 percent in the first half of 2015 to 21 percent in the first half of 2018.
The National Economic and Development Authority expects the Philippines to graduate to the upper middle-income country status this year, which means our quality of life continues to improve. If this trend is sustained, we may even become a high-income country in the next decade, which means our workers don’t have to look elsewhere for high-paying jobs.