Why we persevere

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By Love Basillote

YEAR ON year since 2006, we watched the drive and delay of countries in their bid to close the gender gap. The index, which benchmarks some 149 countries using four sub-indices, was introduced by the World Economic Forum and every year, we also try to see how our country fared versus others.

Most of us in the development sector would know that Philippines is one of the better performers — ranking 8th overall in the 2018 round, and second only to New Zealand in Asia Pacific. In the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index, we have reportedly closed 80% of the gap. Fully addressing this gap means having as many women as men in the labor force, with equal pay and career prospects.

Understanding statistics and personal circumstances of female NEETs

It is best to understand the challenges layer by layer, and the first stratum we need to look at is unemployment in general.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show that of all urban youth aged 18-24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) 33% are females. This is much higher than the rate of male urban youth NEET at 21%. We have more underserved young Filipinas whose potential contributions to the country are not maximized.

There are many barriers that keep young Filipinas from participating in the workforce: sickness and disability, lack of jobs, and staying in their roles as housewife and deliberately not wanting to work. We found out further that certain sub-groups are more likely to be youth NEET. Such groups include: married female youth, youth without vocational training experience, and youth with only an elementary education.

A program to bridge the gap

Our work in Philippine Business for Education, an organization I serve as executive director, speaks to the need to maximize the youth’s access to relevant training and employment opportunities.

In June 2018, PBEd teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to launch YouthWorks PH. This is a five-year, Php1.7 billion workforce development project that will provide training to out of school youth. As part of USAID’s Global Development Alliance of increasing private sector involvement in development, the project aims to support inclusive growth and shared prosperity by aligning education and employment.

Our ambition is grand: equip the Filipino youth with skills and competencies they need to navigate a changing economic landscape, so they could lead meaningful lives. YouthWorks PH works towards this goal by aiming to reach, train, and place over 4,000 youth NEET in middle-skill jobs. Middle-skill jobs require some high school education or vocational training as opposed to the traditional bachelor’s degree. These include medical technicians, sales agents, food service managers and chefs, or IT support specialists. Growth sectors like construction, energy, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, and energy need such type of workers.

To link these sectors to our jobless out-of-school youth, PBEd forged partnerships in key cities across the Philippines like Metro Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro City and Zamboanga City. Academic institutions and companies in these areas have opened up to provide work-based training to youth NEET, and in the second year of our project we are expanding to Iloilo, Davao and Gen. Santos City. We intend to lay the foundation for more extensive private sector engagement in the future. We are also working with industry to ensure that their hiring policies put premium on skills and competencies — a crucial factor in breaking gender stereotypes in the workplace.

A design based on learnings

With these in mind, the Youthworks PH program design was therefore based on three key learnings.

We can’t do this alone. First, YouthWorks PH will gather private sector partners who are willing to provide youth with work-based training positions; second, we will work with the academe in developing training curricula; and we will enlist the help of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to provide competency certifications by the end of the program.

We need to address issues of confidence and gender stereotypes. Exposure to training obviously helps address the skills gap. There are, however, some deeper and more personal implications of training — confidence and self-efficacy. This is empowerment, having people realize their worth and their capability to influence the events in their own lives. We just have to give them something to start with as early as possible. This project is in its early stages, but we are encouraged by existing models like that of our partner Punlaan School in San Juan, where girls are trained and sent to apprenticeships. We are in the process of learning from these models and right-sizing the intervention to better fit the Filipina youth NEET.

The Youthworks PH program ends in 2023. By which time, we also fervently hope that we have contributed enough to lessen the gap. However, working towards youth employment and equality in the long run is a collaborative effort among the government, industry and academe. There is a need for education stakeholders to break out of their silos and link up. In pushing for reforms, a close relationship between schools and private companies under a conducive policy environment is a good place to start. Our plans may be ambitious, but we are confident we can get it done.