THE Philippines must create a national human capital development plan to upskill its workforce, ASEAN Society Philippines President and former Tourism undersecretary Alma Rita R. Jimenez said at the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Skills Forum on Wednesday.

She said private industry, educators, and civil society need to build a framework that would identify the country’s market advantages prior to investing resources for upskilling.

“We need to identify what our comparative advantage is as a country, the market where we need to supply talent, and the talent needs of our country,” she said in Filipino in an interview after her speech.

She said that putting in resources to key industries and skills would offer gains that would “positively move the needle for the country.”

She came out against uncoordinated plans to upskill workers in dozens of industries.

“We just cannot say that what they’re doing is good for us because we are operating on different planes, different level of competitiveness, different resources,” she said, referring to attempts to emulate Singapore’s upskilling process.

The Philippine framework, she said, should include implementable and actionable plans to address employment needs in the face of automation.

Ms. Jimenez in her speech noted that the country has “restrictive labor laws” that must be updated to address the growth in work-from-home freelancing, and the entry of efficient robots in manufacturing.

“The protection afforded to this segment should be requiring employers to upskill, reskill, and retool.”

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in September signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SkillsFuture Singapore — an arm of Singapore’s Ministry of Education — to address the skills gap in the Philippine workforce.

The DTI identified six priority sectors based on their availability and readiness to collaborate, and plans to expand the program to around 21 more sectors.

Trade Undersecretary Rafaelita M. Aldaba told a panel the department is working with industry groups to formulate sector-based road maps.

“It’s a matter of updating the existing road maps, and incorporating chapters or incorporating discussions with respect to refining what the innovation goals of our industries are along with the adoption of these new technologies,” she said.

She said that the initiatives are collaborative between government, the education sector, and industry. — Jenina P. Ibañez