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Graduation and unemployment

On July 14, Friday, Joshua Casilihan of Sipocot, Camarines Sur, will go up the stage to receive his coveted college diploma in Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering with honors during the Ring-hop and Commencement Exercises at Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Canaman campus, Camarines Sur. He and his graduating class are a distinct lot. They bear the distinction of enduring the life experiences of the global COVID-19 Pandemic since they first entered college in 2020 and 2021.

The impact of the Pandemic on their learning and whole being is life-changing. Entering college while their families and the whole world battled the uncertainties and anxieties of whether they would survive was a most difficult challenge. Depression hits hard during a crisis, especially on one’s mental health. The Class of 2023 comes of age during fear and uncertainty. Born mainly from 2005 to 2007, most graduates come from farming and low-income families in various parts of Camarines Sur and nearby provinces. They know that graduation entails adjustments as they leave the portals of their school to crawl into the hinterland of the job market.

Joshua and the 1,500 new graduates of Mariners’ three campuses - Canaman, Camarines Sur, Naga City, and Legazpi City, Albay-- are among the estimated 2M students graduating this year from various public and private colleges and universities nationwide. Some may be lucky enough to land a job. The majority, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, may continue to join the ranks as job seekers and remain jobless, whose number continues to swell to millions in the post-Pandemic period. Most jobs are contractual, with dismally low pay and stressful.

Joshua and his peers may be luckier than most. They are bound for their OJT after graduation and, if they perform well in their post-graduate training, may secure their jobs eventually. Graduation 2023 is the year of fiercer competition and more intense job hunting. Global conditions have become fiercely competitive. Have we prepared them enough?

Studies show many graduates fail to land their dream jobs. Worse, most fail to get any job at all. Unemployment caused by problems of skills mismatch, lack of experience, and soft skills hound most graduates. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) now prefer re-hiring their old experienced employees who left during the Pandemic because they see that graduates who finished college through virtual learning cannot even cope with practical problems at the workplace.

A study by the Commission on Human Rights found that new graduates find it hard to land jobs because online learning during the Pandemic failed to develop the “soft skills fully’’ which they would also need in the workplace. I see this difficulty among many of our students from public schools when they first apply for college. If they do not step up during college, they will find it more difficult to land jobs after graduation. Modular learning during the Pandemic worsened this learning situation. The CHR study found that many graduates lack “soft skills” related to creativity, social connection, resilience, and communication — and practical job skills.

Government funded programs for youth formation, like the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Alternative Learning System, Oplan Tawid, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, focus more on skills and primary education. Why not focus on soft, and life-skills? During the early years of the Pandemic, Tabang Bikol Movement conducted its Kurit Aki creative learning workshops, psycho-social interventions, and youth training in the communities that aimed more to develop self-expression, effective communication, innovation, socio-cultural and creative arts, farm and technical skills, teamwork and critical thinking. Most, if not all, of the “graduates” of such learning, have become more resilient and active in school, engaged in enterprising ventures, and community-based programs.

Education and job creation

DepEd’s Basic Education Report 2023 in January reiterated the problems of the country’s educational system, which has become a laggard in Southeast Asia. It highlighted the significant challenges the DepEd faces today: lack of facilities and resources, poverty, and poor learning outcomes. Add to this the declining enrollment in private schools. The lack of quality graduates starts with primary elementary education. Consider this: Dep-Ed says there are 327,851 school buildings in the country, but “only 104,536 are in good condition.” Worse, 81% of learners fail fundamental Math problems. Wasn’t this the same situation in 1998 and 2010?

Job creation starts at home

The Philippines has long been a labor-exporting country. Unemployment has grown even with the re-opening of the economy. The youth have no option but to leave for greener pastures abroad. With a growing population, we shall be 140M by 2045 from 113M today. The government should create jobs at home, be earnest in tapping our human resources to create jobs, build and develop social enterprises, and promote national industrialization, and not just on paper of the Philippine Development Plan.


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