Salceda sees TESDA department as critical to job recovery after Covid-19

A legislative measure that seeks to transform and elevate the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to a full-pledged department in the executive branch of government, has been filed and now pends in the House of Representatives.

House Ways and Means Committee chair, Albay 2nd district Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, who also co-chairs the Economic Recovery Cluster, and principal author of the bill, said developing the country’s skills base will be critical to job recovery after COVID-19, especially; given the accelerated shift to the digital economy.

In his sponsorship of the measure, House Bill No. 4417, Salceda explained: “I did the economics. I studied the histories and the theories of national development. The evidence is clear that nothing is more important in determining the wealth of nations than the knowledge base of a country. If its workers can evolve as industries evolve, the country becomes wealthy.”

The bill was approved in principle Wednesday by the Committee on Government Reorganization and the Committee on Higher & Technical Education.

“Many resource-rich countries remain poor. Meanwhile, the world’s most astonishing economic success stories, from the Netherlands to Singapore, relied almost exclusively on the ingenuity of their people,” Salceda noted.

Salceda lamented that TESDA only gets 2.5% of the annual budget for education, even if “arguably, TESDA has the most economic returns to its learners and to the country.” Despite the considerable progress and many lives changed, the agency is facing  various and enormous challenges to adapt to changing environments towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, he added.

“We don’t need diplomas. We need skills. Much of our education spending is in churning out new graduates with very little job-relevant training,” the lawmaker stressed.

Salceda said he envisions TESDA as a department concerned not just with supplemental training or certification programs, but as a full career-planning and development agency similar to Singapore’s manpower development government office, Workforce Singapore (WSG).

“The Singapore model, an exemplar for career development, trains workers in a manner that fits the worker’s career path and goals. There is alignment with national development goals and industry needs. There is lifelong learning. I am so tired of for-show ‘continuing professional development’ programs,” he added.

“The for-compliance-only system of career development in this country, together with the diploma-mill curricula, have become a racket and a drain on our economic resources and productivity. We need genuine skills development. That is why I want more resources for TESDA.” Salceda emphasized.

The Albay lawmaker said new framework for skills development is needed to strengthen TESDA to help in job recovery and encourage investments into the country, which is now crucial, considering that COVID-19 has cost the jobs of some 3.8 million Filipinos.

“We need to think harder about our development strategy and our labor strategy. Our neighbors are also thinking very hard, and they have the resolve to do what they see to be right. If we don’t, we will get left behind,” he added.

Salceda listed five key principles in his proposed reform for TESDA. These are: 1) The best protection against labor redundancy is lifelong training. The well-trained worker is ready for any new industry trend, and will always be able to find decent employment;

2) The most important determinant of the wealth of nations is knowledge and skills. The better a country’s ability to absorb skills, the stronger its economy will be. Skills will also determine a country’s wealth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution;

3) Building a strong knowledge base requires a strong skills development framework. One exemplar is the Singapore model which extensively invests in the career paths of every worker;

4) The country’s skills framework, led by TESDA, is already delivering promising results, but it is significantly underfunded, receiving just 2.5% of the education budget; and

5) TESDA can deliver more if given enough public investment and attention as a full-pledged department, but under its current structure of being a mere attached agency, its capacity is severely constrained.

Aside from TESDA’s institutionalization as a full-pledged department, Salceda’s other bills on skills development reform include: a) the 21st Century Skills Act (HB 7671) to institutionalize lifelong learning by creating skills development accounts that provide free annual training to all Filipino workers; and b) Meister Schools Act (HB 6287) to establish a network of regional meister  (or apprenticeship) schools where industry and government work hand-in-hand in crafting curricula suited to the needs of higher-order or higher-technology industries.

His other education reform measures likewise include the K-12 Reform Act (HB 6247) which aims to make TVET the focus of basic education; and Public Schools of the Future Act (HB 311) which aims to make public schools technology ready, and teach 21st century skills in the curriculum.