Job hunt tough for graduates of ‘pandemic generation’
MANILA, Philippines — Fresh graduates are finding it more difficult to land jobs as many of them lack “soft skills” — or those related to empathy, creativity, resilience, and communication — and practical job skills that would have been best honed in face-to-face classes.
This was among the main findings of a recent Commission on Human Rights (CHR) situational report, which sought to underline urgent challenges faced by new graduates in a post-pandemic normal.
The report also provided one of the first snapshots of the hardships faced by the “pandemic generation,” or the first wave of students who experienced pandemic learning during their formative school years.
Its findings were culled from focus group discussions with officials of the national government, prospective employers, school teachers, administrators and principals, and the youth.
Among others, it found that new graduates tended to experience a “culture shock” upon entering the workplace “because their expectations differ[ed] from what they were taught at school.”
An employer interviewed for the report observed their lack of soft skills.
“While the K-to-12 Program assumes to equip SHS (senior high school) graduates with competencies and skills not just for further studies but also for employment, not much attention is given to developing their life and soft skills, which, as the employer participants attest, are equally important in the workplace,” the report noted.
According to the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop), fresh graduates, who mostly completed their education through virtual learning, were struggling to get employed not only because of their perceived lack of skill sets due to the limitations of an online setup but also as a consequence of fierce competition in the labor market following the reopening of the economy,
Ecop president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., in an interview with the Inquirer on Tuesday, said companies were prioritizing the rehiring of previously laid-off employees and this added more competition to new graduates.
“If there are many applicants for the position, employers prefer those who have experience already,” he pointed out.
On the training side, Ortiz-Luis said those who finished tertiary education in a face-to-face setup might have an advantage because facilitating learning in a traditional manner has already been proven effective.
He explained that this setup also allowed students to develop social skills, which are deemed necessary in navigating the professional field.
Many government programs such as the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Alternative Learning System and Oplan Tawid, as well as youth programs and initiatives of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) “are focused on providing basic education and skills training and not on developing effective communication, teamwork and critical thinking,” according to the CHR report.
Many graduates also “lack job readiness,” the report said, with most students having had to do their internships virtually, too.
As such, many of the skills they learned online “could not be translated into actual practice,” it added.
An agriculture student who was interviewed for the report shared that they were supposed to assist in pig farrowing for a class, “but since everything had become online, they simply watched the professor guide the hog to give birth when they should have manually assisted in the hog’s delivery.”
Fresh graduates also missed out on critical opportunities to learn about job openings and how to apply for them.
Before the pandemic, schools often hosted orientations and job fairs, but with remote work becoming a trend, many “lack awareness on how to apply for jobs because they do not have sufficient information or have difficulty finding information.”
Much of the situation is rooted in systemic challenges such as the mismatch of teacher competencies to senior high school programs.
For example, a participant in the study noted that the biology subjects in their institution’s K-12 program were dropped because the subject was taught by an English teacher who was also a Filipino major.
Many public schools and state universities, moreover, lacked career guidance programs that could have helped students discern the right track for them.
Even in schools where such programs exist, they were often offered at Grade 10 when these should have been given at Grade 7.
Several programs and courses also did not necessarily match available jobs, the report said, citing a political science major interviewed for the report who shared that she only learned belatedly that job opportunities for political science graduates were few.
Many employers who hire K-12 graduates — or early leavers — were often from business process outsourcing, call center companies, and small- to medium-sized enterprises, the report noted. Still, these companies often preferred those with bachelor’s degrees.
The CHR recommended that the national government form more partnerships with industries and human resource executives from the private sector so that students and graduates could be easily linked to job opportunities.
The Commission on Higher Education, DepEd, and Tesda as well as schools and colleges should also review the K-12 program and “consider the competencies of the faculty and its resources.”
It also recommended that the agencies review the curriculum and align it with industry demands and resolve issues at the basic education level.
Lastly, it asked the national government to do a tracer study of K-12 graduates and their experiences transitioning from school to work to get a better picture of what needs to be done to equip students.
The labor market has been slowly recovering from the pandemic, with the unemployment rate in the Philippines remaining at 4.8 percent in February as in January even as more Filipinos joined the labor force.
In a press briefing, National Statistician Dennis Mapa said that in February, the number of Filipinos participating in the labor market reached 51.27 million, or an increase of 2.67 million from a year ago and 1.55 million from the previous month.
“A substantial portion of the added participants did find jobs,” Mapa said.
Sonny Africa, executive director of the think tank Ibon Foundation, believes otherwise.
“The labor market is neither ‘steadily recovering’ nor has ‘solid performance,’” he said, noting that while the number of employed Filipinos increased, two-thirds of that was for unpaid work for one’s household and the remaining third was for informal self-employment.
“At a record high of 4.8 million, there are now more unpaid family workers than the 4.6 million working for the government or government-owned corporations,” Africa said.
He added that unpaid family workers should be counted as unemployed.
Labor groups also noted that workers were still reeling from inflation and contractual jobs.