Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 7      March 20 - 26, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Economic Woes Drive Bright Graduates to Call Centers

The call center industry is now considered the biggest employer in the Philippines, in terms of growth rate. The trade and industry department said call centers are hiring 1,500 to 2,000 people every week.

By Carl Marc Ramota
Contributed to Bulatlat

The youth are not only the least employable, but they are also one of the groups easily affected by economic downtrends. For example, in 1995 there was a net decrease in new jobs created for those in the age group 25 to 34 years, with zero new jobs created for those in the 20 to 24 year age bracket.

The economy is unable to absorb the large number of new entrants into the labor market each year. It is particularly difficult for young workers to find employment, and even more difficult for them to find well-paid, secure and safe jobs.

CHED says business courses alone produce about 45,000 surplus graduates who end up unemployed. 

Labor force

Total labor force in the Philippines in 2001 was estimated at 31.85 million people. From this total labor force, some three million were in the age range of 15 to 19 years; 4.1 million, ages 20 to 24 years; and a further 7.5 million, ages 25 to 34 years.

In 1996, the labor force participation rates for youth appeared to be higher in rural areas than in the urban areas. In particular, the participation rate for rural youth aged 15 to 20 years was 49.7 percent compared to 35.3 percent for urban youth. It is possible that a number of rural youth join the labor force much earlier than their urban counterparts, due to the limited opportunities for tertiary studies in rural areas.

In a study made by the National Youth Commission in 1998, more than 40 percent of youth are engaged in farming, fishing and forest-related work. Agricultural jobs are ill-paid and require little schooling. An equal proportion of youth is employed in services. These workers are largely found in community, social and personal services and wholesale and retail trade. These jobs are typically at the bottom of the ladder in terms of pay, skill and status.

These figures indicate that a majority of rural youth is employed in agriculture, while a third of urban youth is employed in community and social services

However, agriculture’s share of employment was already in a downward trend from 1970 to 1994, from 53.8 percent to 45.2 percent.


Already at the start of the millennium, one of every 10 Filipinos was jobless. This translates to around 3.1 million Pinoy workers sidelined by the economic crisis.

Meanhwile, Raymond Palatino, Anak ng Bayan vice president doubts if the present administration can provide employment to the new graduates this year and if Arroyo can really deliver six million jobs at the end of her term.

Palatino said about 700,000 workers are laid-off every year due to “mass labor contractualization.” He chided the Arroyo government for its continued labor export policy which banks on international migration, saying it does not resolve the prevalent joblessness in the country. Some 2,800 Filipinos fly abroad everyday due to lack of job opportunities.

Brain drain

In 2002, the number of Overseas Filipinos Workers (OFWs) already reached 1.06 million, up by 2.6 percent from 1.03 million a year ago.

“However, the increase in the number of OFWs also fueled the continuous brain drain in the country. Sadly, other countries are the ones which benefit from the Philippines’ brightest minds due to lack of attractive job and opportunities here,” Palatino pointed out.

Among the most badly hit the by the brain drain phenomenon is the health sector. Migrant health and life science professionals are placed at 43,000 of whom 33,000 are female. Overseas caregivers who fall under the category Personal Services workers number 104,000.


Records from the Professional Regulations Commission do not provide a clear picture of the brain drain among nurses and doctors.  However, the dramatic annual reduction in registered nurses from 27,272 in 1995 to only 5,874 in 2000 is indicative of the worrisome trend considering the reduction in graduates is only a little more than 10 percent.


Dr. Jaimel Galvez Tan of the University of the Philippines Manila said some 25,000 nurses left the country last year which was three times as many as graduated from nursing school.


In addition, Galvez Tan said, 2,000 doctors left to become nurses. This year, 4,000 doctors are taking up nursing. The United States will have a shortage of 800,000 nurses by 2020, according to one estimate. Such is the demand that in the Philippines there are now almost 300 nursing schools, up from 127 nine years ago, according to the Philippine Nurses Association.


Such was the case of Elmer Jacinto, 28, a magna cum laude from a top medical school who bested 1,824 other aspiring doctors who took the national medical exam last year. In his media interviews, Jacinto was very vocal that he intends to work as a nurse in the United States.


A doctor in the Philippines only earns an average of $400 a month, while a nurse in the United States can earn $4,000 a month on top of a $7,000 signing bonus.


Furthermore, in his study, Prof. Roland Simbulan, UP Manila’s vice chancellor, found that about 65 percent of medicine school graduates, like the UP College of Medicine, went abroad after graduation.

Call centers: Boon or bane?

Aside from labor migration, the Arroyo government is currently banking on what it has been the Philippines’ “Sunshine industry” – call center. Even the presidential palace held a call center job fair last year.

The call center industry is now considered the biggest employer in the Philippines, in terms of growth rate. The trade and industry department said call centers are hiring 1,500 to 2,000 people every week. There are already about 45 Filipino and foreign players in the Philippines' booming call center business, which has generated 30,000 jobs in just five years here. The country already ranks second to India in attracting call-center business and government officials are confident it will overtake the latter in the next five years.


With its attractive salary amid low-paying and joblessness, thousands of graduates have been lured into the call center business in the last five years. DTI estimates that a Philippine agent receives starting pay of about P12,000 to P15,000 to as much as P40,000 for higher positions every month.


Yael Medina was among those who joined the bandwagon. A graduate of Secondary Education at the University of the Philippines in 2000, Yael said she really wasn't inspired to apply for teaching positions at that time.

”I had applications in the States and I was hoping that one of them would still call and let me know that they wanted to offer sponsorship. I needed a job that would allow me to leave anytime.  A teaching job would have tied me down for at least 10 months,” she explained.

”I was disillusioned by several high school batchmates who had gone into education too and who were teaching in public schools,” Yael added, pertaining to the low salary of public salary teachers.


She said it may be possible that she will continue working in a call center in the next yars, ”but not in a customer service representative capacity.”

Yet while call center agents get higher salary than ordinary rank-and-file employees, DTI admits Filipino agents get only a fifth of their American counterpart.


The department also says that Filipino call center workers stay an average of 2.5 years on the job, compared with about eight to nine months for Americans, which is also on a part-time basis.


Even call centers confess that while there seems to be a large pool of English-speaking college graduates being churned out by Philippine schools, only a few qualify. Out of 100 applicants in a call center firm, for instance, only 5 to 10 are hired.

“The government is using the call center boom to cover the high unemployment and underemployment rate in the country. In fact, most call center agents finished degrees which are not related at all to their present job,” Palatino pointed out.

“Consider these: honor students, student leaders who graduated from the best universities in the country from tough courses are simply relegated to answering calls from customers whose problems most of the time can be fixed by even a toddler.  These fresh graduates who labored for four or five or even six years in college learning the ropes of their chosen field have to forget about all these because their college education does not match the type of job they have to perform,” he said. 

Palatino said the call center boom is not the answer to the country’s employment problems.  “It may solve our problems in the short term, but it still does not address the long-term issues,” he explained.

Employment woes

Palatino also blamed the government’s freeze hiring policy for the high unemployment rate among new graduates. He said the policy further aggravated the situation since it remains the biggest single employer in the country.

“What’s more, employment programs of the DoLE through the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) and the Employment Promotion Division (EPD) have not really eased the unemployment problem,” he added.

From January to September last year, the labor department said it was able to solicit 609,380 job vacancies from different companies. However, this is still not enough to accommodate some 654,045 job-hungry applicants who registered. In the end, only 455,457 applicants were placed through local employment services. Furthermore, only a total of 292,259 or 45 percent of the total registered applicants were hired as regular workers.

He also said the unemployment problem is rooted in the country’s educational system wherein degree holders do not have the skills and knowledge required to qualify for the jobs they aspire for. “Raw training underwent by new graduates make them unqualified for in demand jobs, so most of them are forced to resort to underemployment,” he explained.

Palatino elaborated that the overconcentration of students on few courses also contributes to the growing unemployment rate. “Most courses in fact do not correspond to the actual need of the local economy for it to develop, and instead its graduates are designed to be exported outside the country to serve foreign interests,” he said.

He then urged the government and the education department to restructure the education curriculum in the context of national industrialization that would generate mass employment and will provide adequate income for the family of Filipino workers.

Palatino likewise advised basic skills training, retraining and upgrading for teachers to solve the poor passing rates in licensure examinations. “The government and our lawmakers must also investigate the proliferation of fly-by-night schools and pseudo-colleges which only serve as diploma-vending institutions but produce mediocre graduates,” he concluded. Bulatlat

Joblessness Awaits Batch 2005 (First of two parts
By Carl Marc Ramota



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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