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Helping workers through upskilling and entrepreneurship

Poverty is often tied to low wages. Every administration has had to grapple with the problem of labor and wages. It’s a tough balancing act. How do you expect lives to improve if people subsist hand-to-mouth? On the other hand, how can businesses, especially the SMEs, continue to operate when they are faced with higher costs of doing business? The conflict always threatens to lead to instability, something which the Philippines simply cannot afford if it is to reach its goal of becoming an upper-middle income country in the near future.

Is a mandated increase in wages the only way to unshackle people from poverty? Because if it is, it implies that the Filipino worker is powerless over his fate – that another person is in control of the situation.

I would like to think that there are always alternative pathways. Among these are upskilling and entrepreneurship.

Workers can have a better chance at asking for higher wages if they upskill themselves. This is what the Jobs Group of the Private Sector Advisory Council is working on. When our workers are upskilled, they have a powerful bargaining chip with which to negotiate higher wages.

They can even parlay that new skill into another entirely different income stream. Janitors can learn how to drive even without ever owning a vehicle by enrolling in the free training offered by government organizations like TESDA. Busboys can learn to cook, gardeners can learn to landscape and waiters can learn to manage a restaurant through practical experience. I learned how to sell fire extinguishers and used clothes on my own initiative; over the years I learned how to navigate sales and marketing by observing and learning on the job and it has helped me immensely.

During our free public entrepreneurship mentoring events at our non-profit, Go Negosyo, we meet people who found success by developing other skills. Some discovered that they have a talent for online live selling, while some found that they can actually earn more by being content creators on topics that are close to their hearts. Some discovered that their practical skills – say in cooking meals or organizing events – could even be spun off into a business and turn them into entrepreneurs. Coupled with the correct entrepreneurial mindset, experienced workers can parlay their skills into a business.

Entrepreneurship, however, is not as simple as it sounds, but it is not impossible to succeed in it if one has the patience and discipline to approach it with purpose. In all our programs at Go Negosyo, we always emphasize that in order to succeed in entrepreneurship, one needs access to the three M’s, that is, money, mentorship and markets. Entrepreneurs need capital, a coach and a market for their goods or services. Without access to these three, it will be very difficult to succeed.

Fortunately, there are programs that make these three M’s accessible even to aspiring entrepreneurs. Our regular 3M on Wheels has been stepped up this year so we can reach more people in the provinces. With the help of the First Lady’s LAB for All initiative, we were able to expand 3M on Wheels’ reach so that our volunteer entrepreneurship mentors can reach smaller communities across the country. It was also the First Lady who approached us to help the displaced employees of Sofitel Philippine Plaza, which is to cease operations by the end of June. A lot of these employees are veterans in the tourism industry and I am sure they will have a lot to contribute when they start their own businesses, given their real-world experiences in hospitality.

MSME development and worker upskilling has to be a whole-of-government approach, and it becomes even greater than the sum of its parts when it is supplemented by the resources and vigor of the private sector.

We try and mimic this by connecting the private sector to help with key growth areas such as agriculture, tourism, the youth, women, digital technology and our OFWs.

With agriculture, we integrate small farmers into the value chain of big agri companies so they can benefit from their mentorship by learning best practices and new technologies, access ready markets for their products and realize better income from economies of scale.

With our program with the Department of Education, we teach entrepreneurship and business fundamentals to senior high school students to introduce them to alternative pathways to income generation. It ties in with our advocacy in agriculture as it supports the Pampaaralang Taniman ng mga Agribida (PTA), and the inclusion of agripreneurship in the K-12 curriculum.

We teach financial literacy and self-sufficiency through micro-entrepreneurship to the beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). We do the same at the barangay level with our work with the Development Center for Future Leaders and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

However, one of the most difficult M’s to access is money, or capital. Without it, MSMEs will find it hard to realize their full potential as the backbone of the economy. Recent data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas show that the overall compliance ratio of the banking sector to lend to MSMEs is at 4.41 percent – still below the 10 percent required by the Magna Carta for SMEs. With hope, increasing access to digital technology can help this by making loans more accessible to people who have been discouraged by the bureaucratic and physical limitations of borrowing from brick-and-mortar banks.

MSMEs comprise almost all of the enterprises in the country and account for more than half of the jobs that are being created. This is true even in the whole ASEAN region. In my work in the ASEAN Business Advisory Council – the ASEAN businessmen who provide guidance to the ASEAN on private sector concerns – I see time and again how critical the MSME sector is to each of the economies that make up the region. Without these millions of small and medium businesses, even the large companies will have a hard time.

I wish for a future where every worker will have it in his or her power to pull themselves up because they have upskilled or have become successful entrepreneurs. Our job now is to create the environment that can make this possible.

Source: Go Negosyo -


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