The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of our society, especially our employment and economic realities. As of the April 2020 Labor Force Survey from the Philippine Statistics Authority, the unemployment rate rose to 17.7 percent, which translates to around 7.3 million Filipinos being out of work. To compare, in January 2020, the unemployment rate stood only at 5.3 percent. Sadly, these numbers paint a mere glimpse of the horrible damage that the pandemic — and the ensuing lockdowns — have done to our economy.
But while our employment situation is grim, it is also one of opportunity. In the digital age, the unemployed have a chance to go into digital careers, to possibly become freelancers who work online, and usually from home.
In fact, many Filipinos have already been doing just that. In 2018, Paypal’s Global Freelance Insights Report showed that two percent of our population, or about 1.5 million Filipinos had already done online freelance work. In 2019, we were in 6th place in a Forbes list of top freelance markets, with 35% growth from the year before. Now, according to the recently published 2020 Global Skill Index from Coursera, the Philippines is an emerging market for both trending skills in both business and technology, ranking at 37th and 38th respectively, and with a higher rank in data sciences, at 31st out of 60 nations.
Even before the pandemic, many skilled Filipino workers have been jumpstarting the growth of a so-called gig economy in the country — one that is based on hiring independent workers for short-term projects who mostly work online. However, in this transition, there are several issues that need to be addressed.
According to a recent #Qlitan with QBO webinar, the common problems that many freelancers face are mainly about issues of being paid on time, being paid commensurate to the work put in, having a more stable income, and having support and work benefits that they could expect from the government.
Fortunately, we have been working on a solution — one that we have recently filed, the National Digital Careers Act or NDCA (SBN 1469). We initially worked on the NDCA in recognition of the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the nature of jobs and employment, particularly the development of digital careers in all sectors of society. We thought that one approach to growing such digital careers was for the government to be actively involved in equipping the workforce with the requisite digital skills, and providing the means for continuous upskilling and retooling, in accordance with global standards and demands. Hence, this was included in the measure.
The measure also mandates that service facilities, training programs, and even financial assistance to upgrade equipment be set up for digital workers. One way of achieving this is by transforming libraries under the National Library of the Philippines into digital access, training, and support centers for digital and freelance workers.
When it comes to education programs for digital careers, the NDCA directs the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to create, design, and develop programs that will train, market, and support innovative strategies for digital careers. Other government agencies, like the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will work to create prescribed minimum wage rates, simple registration and tax filing processes and certification requirements. Subsidies, grants, and scholarships should also be created that will help aid in the development of the digital workforce. Once digital workers and freelancers register, the government can readily recognize them, and offer them aid, particularly now that the pandemic limits job opportunities and project development even in the freelance and digital sectors.
The Coursera report talks about how the new industrial revolution and COVID-19 have required that all nations take a hard look at the new set of critical skills that the brave new world needs: project management, digital marketing, cloud computing, user experience design, business analytics, web development, cloud computing, and knowledge in Microsoft Excel, Python programming, and Deep Learning.
For the Philippines, this means taking a serious look into upskilling, and retooling our people to take on digital careers. With a thriving digital careers ecosystem, many Filipinos will be able to face the challenges of the new normal. That is why we need to act soon—and maximize the employment gain, and minimize the economic pain.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/WDJ