By Miguel Hanz L. Antivola

INFORMATION and communications technology (ICT), data analytics, and cybersecurity are priority skills for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), according to non-profit organization Philippine Business for Education (PBEd).

“There is great industry demand for these roles,” Justine B. Raagas, PBEd executive director, said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld on Tuesday, citing the group’s recent local labor market analysis.

PBEd previously partnered with the telecommunications network PLDT, Inc. and its wireless unit Smart Communications, Inc. to launch JobsNext, a program aimed at upskilling Filipino youth in digital skills for improved business adaptability and employability.

The training program focuses on developing foundational skills such as digital literacy, basic technology concepts, advanced IT learning tracks, and specialized cloud training, as well as entrepreneurship and project management.

“Through JobsNext, trainees are expected to contribute to businesses and MSMEs by driving innovation, enhancing cybersecurity measures, developing software solutions, and providing strategic insights for growth,” Ms. Raagas said.

“With this, we hope to empower the workforce with the right mix of core and digital skills to drive innovation in businesses,” she added, citing the Labor department’s regional consultations where most of the emerging opportunities will come from the green, IT and platform, and creative industries.

In the IMD business school’s World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2022 report, the Philippines ranked 56th out of 63 countries, trailing behind neighboring economies such as Indonesia (51st), Thailand (40th), Malaysia (31st), and Singapore (4th).

The country saw a slight improvement, moving up two spots to 58th, in the sub-factor of adaptive attitudes. However, it fell to the 45th spot from the previous 37th spot in terms of business agility.

According to the World Bank’s Philippine Jobs Report 2023, the proportion of companies adopting digital solutions increased moderately to 71% in March 2022, up from 54% in May 2021 and 51% in November 2020.

“Even sectors that have been traditionally weak in technology adoption and heavy on labor use, such as agriculture, retail, and repair, reported having started to use technology during the pandemic,” the study said.

However, an underutilization of digital solutions can be observed due to the overall low level of digital competency among businesses and weak penetration of modern practice using digital tools, according to the World Bank.

In a World Bank survey conducted in March 2022, 62% of small firms (below 20 employees) and 73% of larger firms (above 20 employees) reported having online commerce solutions. In contrast, only about 25% of small firms reported having an enterprise resource planning which is far below the level reported by larger firms at 54%.

“Given the rapid technological advances and market environment, growing competition, and continued mismatches between the demand and supply of talents in the sector, investments in human capital and ICT skills are required,” the World Bank said.

JobsNext has prepared to upskill around 6,000 youth trainees in Laguna, Quezon City, Sorsogon, Eastern Samar, Samar province, Negros Occidental, and Cagayan de Oro, with 100 home WiFi units and 100 prepaid pocket WiFi devices provided in these areas.

“Together with PBEd, PLDT and Smart are working closely with local government units across the country to equip the youth with skills that will make them more attractive to potential employers,” Catherine Yap-Yang, first vice-president at PLDT and Smart, said in a press statement.

The project also underscores the PLDT group’s close collaboration with the National Government through the digital infrastructure pillar of the Private Sector Advisory Council.