Not just the workers: COVID-19 puts jobseekers’ dreams on hold

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected work on a global scale, and the Philippines is no exception to the negative impact the virus has caused on the workforce. According to the Department of Labor and Employment, more than 2 million workers from about 80,000 establishments in the country have been affected by the pandemic as of April 24. Of this number, 1.4 million have been displaced by temporary closures and 687,000 saw their incomes plummeting due to alternative work arrangements.

Another less apparent effect of the pandemic is the inability of those looking for work to continue with their job applications and search for livelihood opportunities. Government regulations on the national and local levels shuttered businesses deemed non-essential, causing a freeze in hiring and general recruitment activities. The pandemic highlighted the need for firmer policies in providing flexible work opportunities, re-skilling and upskilling programs to retain workers, and opportunities to bring back those who have been laid off to the workforce. It also underscored the need for collaboration from the government, industry and academe in coming up with unified and complementary responses during emergency situations.

In the case of YouthWorks PH, a youth employability project of the United States Agency for International Development and Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), skills training applications of almost a hundred pre-qualified youth not in employment, education and training were put on hold as the enhanced community quarantine stopped operations of the project’s partner schools and companies. YouthWorks PH provides free technical vocational training and on-the-job experience to jobless out-of-school youth aged 18-24 through partnerships with the private sector in Greater Manila Area, Cebu, Iloilo City, Zamboanga City, Cagayan de Oro City and Gen. Santos City. Originally scheduled to begin in April, the pandemic delayed the project’s timelines for recruitment. So far, over a thousand youth from different areas in the country have signed up for placement in various skills training programs of the project.

The current situation underlined the need for alternative modes of education such as online learning which, while available, is not as widespread within the technical vocational education sector. As an interim measure, the youth who registered for YouthWorks PH’s free training programs were given the opportunity to learn life skills online through Accenture’s Skills to Succeed (S2S) platform. The free learning modules included resumé writing and preparing for job interviews, among others. Participants were provided mobile data allowance in accessing the platform.

Rhamses Balboa, 22, from Gen. Santos City was one of the trainees-in-waiting who availed of the online S2S training. He said he is looking forward to starting his work-based training program as soon as the enhanced community quarantine is over.

“I’m very excited to start (my work-based training),” he said. He is a qualified applicant awaiting placement for YouthWorks PH’s electronic products assembly and servicing course. Currently, he is stuck in Tupi, South Cotabato, some 40 minutes away from Gen. Santos City. He has found temporary work in a farm but is unable to go home because of the current situation.

Others are not as lucky as Balboa in looking for temporary work.

“I lost my job, that's why I was looking for work,” said 21-year-old Johnrel Tedera from Cebu who signed up for YouthWorks PH’s tile-setting program. Tedera previously worked as a kitchen hand in one the malls in Cebu City but was laid off because of the quarantine. He said he is asking around for job opportunities especially since there are seven of them in the family.

Twenty-two-year old Rodney Martinez, Jr. from Malungon, Sarangani, is also unemployed. He said he signed up for YouthWorks PH’s electronic installation and maintenance course to build on the knowledge he learned from his friends who work as electricians.

“It would be a waste if I won’t be able to add on what I’ve learned,” he said. Martinez added that his father works in a nearby pineapple plantation while he is stuck at home for the time being.

With the enhanced community quarantine extended to May 15 covering a number of regions in the country, youth in search of opportunities like Balboa, Tedera and Martinez have to depend on government relief to sustain themselves and their families, without an opportunity to earn on their own.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that we need to have a deeper understanding of our workforce development system so we can come up with immediate and appropriate policy responses to issues like sudden unemployment, lack of job security and the future of our workforce under a new normal,” said PBEd Executive Director and YouthWorks PH Chief of Party Lovelaine Basillote.

Basillote added that overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic also requires thinking about how people can return to being productive as soon as they are able to get back on their feet.

“More than helping people survive the situation, it is also important to ensure that they can get the support they need to be self-sufficient and empowered individuals who have a chance at leading meaningful lives,” she said.

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