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STEM-focused education seen addressing work-skills mismatch

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A SCIENCE, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) focus in the educational system is expected to help bridge the skills gap in the workforce, STEM advocates said on Thursday.

“Educators and employers need to focus on the connection of STEM education to careers that focus on solving real-world problems with technical skills,” Kelli List-Wells, founder of educators group STEM Leadership Alliance, said at the 3rd Integrated STEM Leadership Summit in Mandaluyong City.

She said more digital modes of learning are needed for engineering, architecture and construction. 

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has said that around 800,000 to 1 million skilled workers in engineering, architecture, and construction are needed to address the labor shortage this year.

STEM-related educational offerings are vital in developing workers equipped for the evolving job market, she added, citing a study on the Philippine workforce by the Makati Business Club.

George F. Westerman, founder of the Global Opportunity Initiative (GOI) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said employers and educators should use technology to complement skills development.

“Educators can change their approaches to build next-level skills in order to bridge the gap from community college to advanced manufacturing workforce opportunities,” he said at the event.

GOI helps organizations from various industries improve worker performance through collaborative research and training seminars, according to its website.

He added that employers and educators should also work with the International Labour Organization to develop skills development programs to enhance worker performance.

The Makati Business Club said in April that 2.4 million jobs could go unfilled this year if reforms to upskill workers are not pursued by the private sector, the government and educational institutions.

Digitalization efforts in Southeast Asia are currently being hampered by the shortage of talent and a skills gap, James Sivalingam, a senior program manager at market intelligence provider International Data Corp. said during a webinar on Oct. 27.

“Just because we have automation doesn’t mean you don’t invest in talent,” he said.

In a March report, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said the Philippines needs to implement more training programs and improve social protections to allow workers to match the increasing expectations in the workplace.

The ADB noted that the coronavirus pandemic compelled companies to rapidly integrate digital technology into their business models, which raised demand for higher levels of technical literacy.

The Philippines’ unemployment rate was 5.3% in August, equivalent to about 2.681 million jobless, according to estimates by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

The PSA noted that job quality deteriorated in August with 7.031 million classified as underemployed, up from 6.482 million a year earlier. The government classifies as underemployed those seeking more work.

“The real problem is not just finding a job today, it is that people need help to grow and thrive in their careers,” Mr. Westerman said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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