More firms willing to hire K-12 grads, but prefer college finishers

More firms willing to hire K-12 grads, but prefer college finishers

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

A BUSINESS SURVEY released on Wednesday showed there is an increasing number of companies willing to hire senior high school (SHS) graduates, although many employers still prefer college graduates over them.

The Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) said its 2024 Jobs Outlook for K-12 Graduates Study showed there is now “a growing openness among employers to hire K-12 graduates.”

The survey, which covered 299 participants, showed four out of five companies are willing to hire SHS graduates. This is an improvement from a similar survey in 2018 which found that only three out of five companies were willing to hire finishers of the curriculum that added two more years to secondary education.

The survey also showed 46% of the respondents currently employ SHS graduates, with large firms more likely to hire compared with micro, small, and medium enterprises.

Almost half of the companies had available job openings for SHS graduates, specifically in areas of personal service work (cooks, waiters and housekeeping workers), sales, and clerical support.

Still, only 27% of entry-level jobs in 2024 were projected to be filled by them due to a preference for applicants with college degrees, PBEd said.

One out of five employers still look for work experience among applicants, even for entry-level positions. Employers expect that 12,544 of their 17,273 entry-level jobs would be filled by college graduates this year.

“Things are looking up for senior high school graduates compared to five years ago, but there’s still much to do,” PBEd Executive Director Justine B. Raagas said in a press release.

“Looking at how the K-12 program is being put into practice, our study confirms what we have been saying all along: the problem with K-12 is not by design, but in its implementation.”

The K-12 program institutionalized by a 2013 law added two more years to secondary education in a bid to make Filipino students “globally competitive.”

But the curriculum’s failure to produce job-ready graduates has sparked calls for either a revision or scrapping of the program.

The Department of Education (DepEd) in 2023 moved to review the K-12 program but the review was still unfinished when Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio filed her resignation on June 19 as the agency’s secretary.

On July 5, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said he had instructed incoming Education Secretary Juan Edgardo M. Angara to focus on improving the employability of K-12 graduates, noting that their curriculum has not equipped them with the necessary job skills.

The Philippine leader cited the need to implement some changes under the K-12 curriculum, such as the inclusion of short courses that would give students “specialization” options.

Ms. Raagas of PBEd urged the government to continue its review of the SHS curriculum “to ensure its practical implementation,” with the goal of aligning competencies with industry needs, strengthening work immersion, and providing better career guidance and labor market information.

The survey showed that employers consider academic and technical vocational livelihood tracks in SHS as the most valuable for securing job opportunities. These include accountancy, business and management; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics strands, as well as information and communication technology (ICT).

“While the K-12 program remains sound, the question is still whether or not our curriculum design is adequate in meeting industrial work requirements,” said Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“The highly centralized process in the implementation of the curriculum makes it difficult for schools to adjust to the needs of industry.  This is on top of resource constraints that limit the number of schools and good teachers in the basic education system,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

Mr. Lanzona said DepEd should simply act as a regulatory agency and give the school administrations and local government units more autonomy in designing and implementing the curriculum with the help of the private sector.

“The goal is to let the local schools decide how best to achieve their objectives and standards subject to their budget constraints.”

Aside from the supposed loopholes of the K-12 curriculum, the Education department also struggles with addressing a learning poverty worsened by class disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and extreme weather events.

Filipino students were still among the world’s weakest in math, reading and science, according to the 2022 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), with the Philippines ranking 77th out of 81 countries and performing worse than the global average in all categories.

In a recent report on PISA 2022 earlier this month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said 15-year-old Filipino students also ranked 63rd out of 64 countries in terms of creative thinking.

Nine in 10 Filipino students aged 10 can’t read basic text, according to a 2022 World Bank report.

Bills seeking to establish a national learning intervention program in response to the deteriorating quality of Philippine education and harmonize enterprise-based education and training programs are among the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council’s top 18 priority bills.