By Bernardo Villegas
A recent article in the International New York Times (December 2, 2013) revealed that the US can learn something from the Philippines in the training of skilled workers. Written by Nelson Schwartz, the article was entitled “Latest German Model: Apprenticeships.” It described an educational initiative in the state of South Carolina in which juniors and seniors in high schools were being trained in the “dualvoc” system for which the Germans are famous. As Mr. Schwartz wrote: “Inspired by a partnership between schools and industry that is seen as a key to Germany’s advanced industrial capability and relatively low unemployment rate, projects like the one at Tognum are practically unheard-of in the United States. But experts in government and academia, along with those inside companies like BMW, which has its only American factory in South Carolina, say that apprenticeships are a desperately needed option for younger workers who want decent-paying jobs, or increasingly, any job at all. And without more programs like the one at Tognum, they maintain, the nascent recovery in American manufacturing will run out of steam for lack of qualified workers.”
In fact, President Barack Obama himself cited this German model in his last State of the Nation address. Thomas E. Perez, the US secretary of labor followed through with the following announcement: “As a nation, over the course of the last couple of decades, we have regretably and mistakenly devalued apprenticeships and training…We need to change that, and you will hear the president talk a lot about it in the weeks and months ahead.” True enough, in November 2013, the White House announced a new $100 million grant program aimed at advancing technical training in high schools. But veteran apprenticeship advocates say the Obama administration has been slow to act.”
Way back in 1981, a group of top executives taking up the Strategic Business Economics Program (SBEP) at the Center for Research and Communication (now the University of Asia and the Pacific) decided to establish a social enterprise called the Dualtech Foundation. Assisted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation from Bavaria, Germany, these forward looking executives saw the advantages of the German model in the training of electro-mechanical and other skilled workers through the apprenticeship program. As described in the INYT article, “In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.”
For more than thirty years now, the Dualtech Foundation has trained more than 10,000 skilled workers for companies like Intel, Mitshubishi, Toyota, Philip Morris, San Miguel Corporation, Intel, and Lufthansa Technik through this German model. Much before President Obama, then President Fidel Ramos encouraged Congress in the mid-1990s to pass a law requiring technical or vocational schools in the Philippines to adopt the German dualvoc system. The model schools are run by the Dualtech Foundation in Metro Manila and by the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) in Cebu. The typical students in these schools come from some of the poorest households in impoverished districts, teenagers who could barely eat one square meal a day. After they are trained in these apprenticeship programs, these youth who are in their early twenties, are able to earn close to twenty thousand pesos a month and can significantly contribute to the support of their families.
Now that basic education in the Philippines is moving towards the K + 12 curriculum, a good number of industries needing technical skills, from the BPO sector and tourism to manufacturing and agribusiness are planning to adopt the dualvoc method, emulating the Dualtech example in transforming the last two years of high school (Years 11 and 12) into a dual training program in partnership with selected high schools. This adoption of the German model will address the serious mismatch between the products of our schools and the types of skills needed by the business sector. The Philippines was overly influenced by the US system in the past and, with the exception of the Dualtech initiative, was also unfamiliar with the apprenticeship program until the 1980s. Thanks to the track record of Dualtech and CITE, it will be easier to convince more Filipino youth to follow the tech-voc path instead of enrolling in colleges that produce unemployable graduates.