That was the promise back when end-to-end primary and secondary education became a 12-year course for Filipinos. Under that set-up, it was expected that graduates of Year 12 would be ready for the workforce. Indeed, there are many types of work out there, many of them high-paying white collar-work, that the average high school graduate could theoretically perform. But the current mindset from the employer side tells a different story, however. Philippine employers currently require university grads to do even the most clerical or administrative types of work.
The most widely-discussed problem is the perceived skill gap between a high school grad and a university grad. The more confronting reality, however, is that there is such a huge gap between the quality of grads coming from elite private schools and those of lower-tier public schools that a graduate of an elite private high school will likely be seen as more employable than a college graduate of a non-elite school. This gap needs to be addressed as well, but it will require much investment in the public education system to bring it to parity with private institutions.
Ultimately, the problem has the most to do with simple supply-and-demand economics. The Philippines’ labour supply is so enormous that it utterly dwarfs demand. As a result, the Philippine labour market is an employers’ market. Employers enjoy a vast abundance of options and are at liberty to choose. Competition is so tight on the jobseekers’ (supply) side that university grads are willing to fill roles that high school graduates would have been qualified for. As such it is not uncommon in the Philippines to find department store sales clerks and bank tellers who are university graduates.
That supply-and-demand issue alone weighs in so large that it makes it difficult to conceive of any other initiative that could make a dent in the prevalent behaviours of Filipino employers around recruiting overqualified personnel just because they can. One solution that could be explored is granting government subsidies to businesses that employ fresh high school graduates or take graduating students into internship or apprenticeship programs. Such programs could potentially allow high-school graduates to compete on a more equal footing with university graduates over the long run.