Salceda says pandemic graduates’ hard skills declined too during pandemic
MANILA, Philippines — Economist and Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda believes that aside from the so-called “soft skills,” the “hard skills” or job-related knowledge of new graduates also deteriorated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salceda said this on Wednesday in response to a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) study indicating that new graduates or those who graduated amid the COVID-19 pandemic lacked soft skills or personal qualities needed for their respective jobs.
According to the lawmaker, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data on labor on professions showed that hard skills also worsened — citing that almost all industries gained more workers from February 2022 to February 2023 except managerial positions (lost 941,000 jobs); skilled agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (lost 108,000); and those in crafts, trades, and related workers (lost 30,000).
“The observation is consistent with global studies, which indicate that learning did suffer as a result of being forced to isolate and study without the company of peers. I wouldn’t immediately jump into the conclusion, however, that the lack of ‘soft skills’ is primarily the source of youth unemployment,” he said.
“If anything, looking at the PSA labor data on professions, it appears that hard skills suffered just as much, if not more, during the pandemic,” he added.
Furthermore, Salceda said that inflation is also a factor in joblessness, noting that higher costs mean companies would have to spend less on production and possibly refrain from hiring new employees.
However, he stressed that the PSA data also shows that the loss of jobs in specific skill professions indicates that hard skills are declining — not only soft skills.
“The issue of finding it hard to land jobs exists in the context of elevated inflation. Food, fuel, and power are expensive – so we need to keep their prices low to keep wages competitive. That is the best way to produce enough jobs to hire new entrants to our workforce,” Salceda said.
“But the jobs figures seem to indicate a problem of hard skills, as well […] The case for a soft skills deficit can be made for the loss of managers, although economic conditions and firm structure likely explain that number better. But the loss of jobs in skilled professions is a clear and undeniable problem of hard skills,” he claimed.
CHR recently released a set of findings highlighting the challenges faced by new graduates who finished schooling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced students for over two years to study from home or distance learning.
According to the report, the government’s K-to-12 program tries to give senior high school students the much-needed competencies, but “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 also noted that many graduates lack “job-readiness” — attributed to many factors like the unconventional learning systems adopted during the height of the pandemic, but also to the inadequacy of existing educational programs.
Salceda clarified that he does not want to debate whether soft skills or hard skills should be prioritized; rather, he suggests that the country figure out what specific soft skills or hard skills should be prioritized.
“Now, this is no debate about whether we should prioritize soft skills over hard skills. What we should instead do is to figure out what kind of skills, in general, does our economy need to thrive and be resilient,” he said.
“Certain skills are obviously more relevant: language proficiency, particularly in English, engineering, the computer sciences, and increasingly, medical sciences — especially in an ageing world. Certain soft skills are also essential, especially those relevant in entrepreneurship and innovation,” he added.
The Philippines is one of the world’s leading sources of human resources, supplying thousands of nurses, maritime workers, engineers, and people from other professions to the world. Overseas workers’ remittances have been a big reason why the country’s economy has remained stable for many years.
However, even before the pandemic, there were warnings that the country faces an education crisis. As early as 2012, the United Nations have been calling on the Philippine government to increase its gross domestic product spending for the education sector.
Then in July 2021, a study from the World Bank said 80 percent of Filipino children do not have the reading and numerical skills required for their age — a matter exacerbated by COVID-19.