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Construction worker shortage ‘about 2.5M’ – DTI

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Workers stand on steel bars as they work at a construction site in Manila on May 18, 2017. — AFP

THE construction industry estimates that it will need 2.5 million more workers to deal with the government’s infrastructure program, a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) official said.

Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo of the DTI’s Competitiveness and Ease of Doing Business Group told reporters on the sidelines of the Asean + 6 construction forum on Monday at the Solaire Resort in Parañaque city that the industry has only 3.3 million workers.

“For the golden age (of infrastructure), the industry says we need about 2.5 million (additional workers) until 2020 to 2021 but the number will diminish slowly as the projects are completed,” she added.

Ms. Castelo noted that the industry’s staffing shortage is partly due to a mismatch of skills and current demand, but added that the shortage can easily be made up from the ranks of the unemployed.

“I always hear that [there’s a shortage] and I would like to refute it. We have 10 million people [who are] unemployed. That’s why we’re training them. They’re not skilled and that’s why we’re training from zero knowledge in construction to those with minimum knowledge to those with maximum knowledge. We invite all of them to join right now,” she added.

As of July, the unemployment rate in the Philippines was 5.6%, up from 5.4% a year earlier.

“If you hear about the shortage of manpower, that’s only here in Metro Manila. Our [prospective] workers are mostly from the provinces. Engineer [Isidro A.] Consunji said a while ago, but it wasn’t explained to an extent that the workers do not want to work here in Metro Manila because of the tariff, the cost of living that they have to still rent, so they’re not here. They’re in the provinces.”

DTI this year enrolled an initial group of trainees in a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) program between three and six months.

At present, Ms. Castelo said 70% of the work force in the construction industry is unskilled.

“Also, there’s a lot of big construction companies that have their own training facilities so we also encourage them to do more training so we have, we will have more available [people for the work force]. We have agencies and training facilities and training organizations doing parallel work now so that we can come up with the 2.5 million [additional workers].”

The DTI’s Construction Manpower Development Foundation and the Department of Labor and Employment are currently evaluating the construction industry’s proposal to increase the minimum wage by P200 to P300 for the building trades.

Ms. Castelo also said that relying on foreign workers would be the last resort.

The DTI is planning to recruit overseas Filipinos with construction skills to return to the Philippines.

Philippine Overseas Construction Board chairman and DMCI Holdings, Inc. President Isidro A. Consunji for his part said that the Philippines’ construction-related exports will also change, depending less on services due to other countries having to address their own unemployment issues.

“We’ll probably be exporting knowledge rather than labor and joint ventures, instead of being contractors or suppliers. But so much work is happening in the Philippines… I think the interest of Filipino contractors is to primarily to stay at home first because (the market) might grow.” – Anna Gabriela A. Mogato