College graduates in search of jobs

Cherry, a 22-year-old graduate of Mass Communication from a Manila-based university, ended up working at a health club that is actually a high-class brothel in Quezon City. Unable to get a job for which she was qualified, she had dabbled in low-paying jobs to help support her family before finding her way to Quezon Avenue. Her desperation eventually led her to become a sex worker earning as much as P5,000 a night.

Cherry was only one of the more than 5,000 Mass Communication graduates yearly who had to compete for a few vacant slots being offered in television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies and public relations firms. - Specializing in Cheap Flights

Most of these graduates were forced to accept other jobs such as customer service agents in call centers, receptionists at hotels, flight attendants, cashiers and sales ladies at shopping malls, office workers, entrepreneurs, and in the case of Cherry, entertainers.

According to the Commission on Higher Education, more than 447,000 students graduated from different universities and colleges nationwide in April 2006, but research institutions said many of these graduates would add to the 2.8 million unemployed Filipinos and 6.895 million underemployed others as of January 2006.

The problem, according to former Economic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito, is that economic growth is felt only in few sectors such as finance and telecommunication, which employ only a few thousand people.

Asian Development Bank senior economist Jesus Felipe said unemployment has become a serious problem in the Philippines, and not even the current level of economic growth at 5 percent annually could significantly make a dent on unemployment and underemployment levels.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) explained that in developing Asian economies like the Philippines, college graduates particularly find it harder to get jobs.

"Unemployment among educated youth tends to reflect a search for 'good' jobs and a rejection of job opportunities perceived to be 'bad' according to social or cultural norms," UNESCAP said in its latest report titled "Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2006: Energizing the global economy."

It noted that in Sri Lanka the probability of being unemployed is much higher among those with a university or post-graduate degree.

"In the Philippines the incidence of unemployment also tends to increase with the number of years of education," it added.

This is evident in the latest Labor Force Survey which showed that while more than 400,000 students graduate from tertiary educational institutions each year, the number of employed professionals in the Philippines grew by only 31,000 to 1.414 million as of January 2006 from 1.383 million a year earlier.

The number of technicians and associate professionals grew by just 26,000 to 869,000 in January from 843,000 a year ago while the number of clerks went up by 30,000 to 1.437 million from 1.407 million.

In comparison, the number of sales workers surged by 135,000 to 3.035 million from 2.9 million while the number of laborers and unskilled workers went up by 382,000 to 10.167 million from 9.785 million.

UNESCAP said that more than 25 percent of the youth in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and most Pacific island countries are presently unemployed.

The UN agency blamed the high rate of labor force growth and the slow rate of job creation as behind the continued high unemployment rate in these countries.

Another problem, it said, is underemployment. "In such countries as the Philippines, significant changes in the structure of production in recent years have altered employment arrangements, accelerating growth in part-time employment," it added.

To resolve the twin problem of unemployment and underemployment, UNESCAP said economic growth should spread across all sectors.

"Economic growth is a necessary condition for sustainable employment generation. However, growth alone will not create employment. State interventions are also required to ensure that growth is broad based and that the benefits are passed on to the poor through employment," it said.

The Philippines has more than 22 million students, of which 19.9 million were enrolled in elementary schools as of 2004; 6.3 million in high schools; 2.4 million in universities and colleges; and 492,000 in vocational schools and training institutes.

Senator Ralph Recto said that there are actually more unemployed college graduates than there are high school dropouts without work.

He said that in January 2005, there were 668,000 unemployed college graduates, compared to the 554,000 high school dropouts without work and the 424,000 elementary school dropouts who were jobless.

A study conducted by two professors at Mindanao Polytechnic State College found that lack of jobs has forced 41 percent of males and 50 percent of females to become idle after graduation. It said that on the average, a graduate has to wait for 18 months before being employed.

Another study by Dr. Adriano Arcelo, a consultant for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), disclosed that jobs requiring higher education comprise only around 7.2 percent of the total job opportunities in the Philippines.

Aniceto Orbeta, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), noted a drastic decline in the proportion of college graduates in the professional and technical category and a rise in the proportion in sales, service, agriculture and production occupations.

In his 2003 study, Orbeta claimed that overall quality of jobs held by college graduates has deteriorated.

"There is not much shift in the proportion of college graduates in employment across industries. Among the discernable movements are increases in proportion in manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate, and wholesale and retail trade sectors," he said.

"Community and personal services, however, are the heavy losers of college graduates. Likewise, there is a decline in proportion of college graduates among the wage and salary workers, particularly government agencies and corporations, and a rise among self-employed workers," Orbeta added.

UNESCAP advised developing countries to upgrade the quality of tertiary education as a way of improving the employability of graduates.

"It is not just the amount of education that matters but also the quality. Education and technical skills are vital to the employability of workers. While many countries in the region boast of high educational attainment, the quality of education and skills is crucial and so is the content of that learning," it said. From MANILA STANDARD TODAY (By Roderick T. dela Cruz, April 11, 2006)

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