This is my column today.
I’ve known for a long time now that there is a gaping mismatch between what the academe produces and what industry needs. I’ve written about it many times in the past as well.
I’ve been involved in a number of studies that empirically proved the presence of the mismatch, measured its dimensions, and even predicted its various implications. I’ve sat in far too many roundtable discussions, consultative meetings, and tripartite conferences involving government, academe and industry called to discuss the problem and find solutions to it.
I have heard countless stories— some upsetting, others amusing—from fellow practitioners about the difficulties they encountered in finding suitable candidates for their various openings. I am aware that all things considered, there is unemployment in the country today. There are many reason
s for the rising unemployment, and one of them is that many of our graduates are simply lacking in critical competencies and are not qualified for employment as white collar workers.
They simply lack the necessary foundation skills to join the corporate world.
So yes, there are hundreds of thousands of job openings in this country and many human resource management professionals are at their wits’ end trying to fill these positions for quite sometime now.
Last week, I came face-to-face with the mismatch problem in a big way.
The bank that I work for conducted a job fair to fill critical positions. Given the urgency of the needs, we decided to organize a job fair as a one-stop employment processing center. We scheduled the job fair to run for three days, hoping to get an average of 300 candidates per day.
It turned out that expectations we set for ourselves were low—very, very low. We averaged close to a thousand applicants for each day of the job fair. Of course the bank that I work for is an employer of choice and we always have a long line of candidates wanting to join us. But even then, the turnout of applicants was still unbelievable. To say that we were deluged with people seeking employment is an understatement.
Being deluged with candidates for employment is not really such a bad thing. In fact, it’s a recruiter’s dream. The problem was that most of the candidates were simply not qualified for the posts they were seeking.
I talked to hundreds of candidates last week, and believe me, the number of times my heart sank far outnumbered the times when I felt a tiny flutter of excitement over a candidate. We were lucky because the large pool of candidates enabled us to short-list a sizable number to fill our openings.
But if we are to think like responsible and concerned citizens, the dismal percentage of qualified people versus the total number of people who showed up is quite staggering.
Most of the applicants were 2008 graduates—almost a year ago—who still haven’t found jobs until this time. A number were returning overseas Filipino workers, who, unfortunately, were often over-aged for entry level positions. This is one of the major downsides of the migrant workers’ phenomenon. By the time an overseas worker comes home, he or she is often overqualified or over-aged for the usual positions available in the job market, if there are any.
And many were candidates doing contractual jobs in various companies, hopping from job to job without clear prospects of being regularized. I know that there are a lot of people who are quick to blame business organizations for not regularizing contractual employees. But there’s another dimension to this problem. When we consider that many of these graduates are not qualified to begin with, and are being hired merely as “extra hands” until someone really suitable comes along, perhaps contractualization is not necessarily such a menace. One has to realize that very often, it takes two to three people with below average competencies to do a job meant for one qualified person. It’s a stop-gap measure until we are able to fix the problem, which unfortunately, is systemic and will require a major comprehensive solution.
Having to say no to applicants—no matter how graciously it is done— because they simply are not qualified for the posts they are seeking is never a pleasant experience, particularly when the positions they are seeking is an entry level clerical position—the lowest, most basic position in the corporate jungle. It’s like meting out a death sentence because you know that the candidate will most likely not get hired anywhere else.
Based on my experience last week, the main areas where our graduates lack competencies in were communication skills, impact, critical thinking and initiative. Most of the candidates just couldn’t express themselves, even in conversational English. They also didn’t know how to package themselves and achieve interpersonal impact. Many didn’t know how to behave in a job interview and many more did not know how to surface, even market whatever strengths they possessed. Many walked into the job fair not even sure about the reasons why they were there.
The mismatch problem is really serious. It’s time to ring the alarm bells. I wonder what it will take for our leaders to sit up and do something about it.