Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mismatched

This was my column on the date indicated above.

I sat as a panelist in a round-table discussion on the mismatch problem at the annual conference of the Call Center Association of the Philippines last week. We had a very insightful exchange and I would like to synthesize the points of discussion in this column.

The mismatch problem has become a major area of concern for industry. It basically refers to the yawning gorge between what industry requires and what academe produces. Those of us in industry have been whining about the problem for the longest time. Now we’re about ready to press the panic button and start screaming like disoriented banshees. You know a problem has reached an alarming point when people start normal everyday conversations by asking each other how they are coping with the problem. So instead of talking about hypertension or inquiring about each other’s uric acid levels, human resource management professionals now invariably talk about how they’re managing their manpower shortages, particularly for critical jobs.

My friends and I do the same. I personally have been having problems trying to find qualified candidates for certain positions in the bank I work for. It is ironic. On one hand, we have a very long line of people looking desperately for jobs. On the other hand, we have a long line of companies also desperately looking for qualified people to fill their vacancies. No amount of matchmaking will help because the two sides of the equation are hopelessly incompatible—pretty much like James Yap and she who must not be named in this column. It’s almost irreconcilable.

From the round-table discussion last week, we learned that there have been quite a number of responses to the mismatch. Various groups have risen to the challenge and have come up with their own programs designed to help narrow the gap. Employer groups, for example have come up with their own studies to help locate the mismatch and measure it. Some academic communities have also started to pitch in with various efforts ranging from training teachers to become better in their craft, to making educational curricula more relevant to the needs of industry by shifting to more competency-based syllabi, to putting in place ladderized schemes that make graduates employable at various stages of their educational lives.

Most of the responses are aptly named “bridging” programs, which, by connotation means that they are designed as palliative and temporary rather than as long-term and permanent solutions. Obviously, the mismatch problem is just a symptom of a larger problem. We need to close the gap, or at least narrow it down to manageable levels, not just build bridges over it.

Solving the mismatch problem was one of the earliest promises made by President Noy Aquino during the last presidential campaign. In the Web site that tracks the promises made by P-Noy (http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/aquino-promises), it’s listed as promise number 17. The identified solution, however, looks at the mismatch problem as a simple offshoot of the lack of coordination between certain government agencies and the private sector. This is sad because the problem is clearly larger than that. It’s not going to go away just because people start talking to each other.

In the discussion last week, I shared data from the People Management Association of the Philippines, the professional organizational that I am a part of. PMAP has done a number of studies on the mismatch. Our findings indicate that as much as 40 percent of candidates for employment are not able to hurdle employment interviews because they generally fall short on three competency areas: Communications, problem-solving and analytical thinking, and initiative.

Based on the results of the PMAP studies, many college graduates are simply unable to articulate their ideas —either in English or Filipino. Many graduates are also short in the area of analytical thinking—it seems people with the ability to think through complexities had become a dying breed. And finally, initiative. Thinking out of the box just isn’t something encouraged in our system, it seems. For example, I have noted the rising incidence of candidates who show up in an interview completely unprepared; they come across as people who just wandered into the room unaware of why they were there, what the company is or does, and what post they applied for.

PMAP has come up with a number of programs such as a “Booksmart is not enough” program. A video designed for college students is available in the web (YouTube) and can be downloaded by anyone.

The other problem is that the current responses to the mismatch problem are not integrated. We’re basically all doing piecemeal firefighting efforts. People are trying to do what they can, but are usually stumped by how big the problem actually is. We need a more comprehensive and integrated response to the problem. Better still, we need government to be at the forefront of the efforts and to lead with resolve. The government must stop thinking that the problem is a simple aberration that will correct itself in time. It won’t go away soon; in fact it is bound to get worse given the absence of coordinated responses to the problem.

Of course the mismatch is just a symptom of a larger problem. The bigger problem is that we don’t have a national plan that strategically addresses the myriad of human resource problems in this country.

If we insist that people—Filipinos —are the most important resource that this country has, then we must have a comprehensive and strategic plan on how to effectively harness that resource as a lasting source of competitive advantage. Not having a clear stand on the fact that majority of our students are in nursing schools, flip-flopping on the issue of the adding two more years into basic education, the absence of a more enlightened stance on specific labor issues such as mandated minimum wages, labor-only contracting, etc—all these form part of the larger problem that needs to be addressed in a strategic and purposeful manner.

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