Emmanuel Joel Villanueva: Making technical education available to everyone

Emmanuel Joel Villanueva, director-general of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)

As director-general of the Technical Education & Skills Development Authority, Emmanuel Joel Villanueva oversees programs to bring technical education and skills development closer to the people and where actual jobs are in the Philippines.

Villanueva has introduced initiatives such as a training and certification program for public utility vehicle drivers to help reduce road accidents arising from drivers’ errors, a plan to transform junk cars into electric vehicles, or an online tool to make TESDA’s technical education and training accessible anytime, anywhere. He is one the most influential development leaders aged 40 and under in Manila.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives and journalists.

We spoke with Villanueva about some of his out-of-the-box ideas and how technical education and skills development can help keep the Philippines on its road to prosperity.

There’s been a lot of positive economic news coming out of the Philippines lately. To what extent will education and skills development be critical to ensuring that the Philippines remains on this path?

The Philippines is on the way to becoming Asia’s next tiger economy. Our impressive 6.6 percent economic growth rate last year indicates vast improvements in our economic situation.

Our human resource is a contributory factor to this progress. Skills development is a driver to this potential. Relevant TVET programs are our springboard to competitiveness and better employment opportunities. It is imperative for us to ensure that our labor force is competent, well-trained, and globally competitive.

But the challenge of job-skills mismatch remains in our midst. Our friends from the IT-BPO [information technology-business process outsourcing] lament about skills shortage. In Bataan, industries are booming but skilled workers are scarce. In Batangas, the relocation of 50 new Japanese firms is expected to pour 20,000 jobs in the next 24 months but that our skilled workers is in short supply worries us. Many of our industries are staging a comeback and many emerging ones are now at the front line.

TESDA is conscious of these needs. We are doing our best to provide relevant and accessible training while improving our capability on emerging and key industries such as tourism, business process outsourcing, semiconductor and electronics, and agri-fisheries.

I believe that our economic gains are sustainable and we will stay on track because the government, together with the private sector, continues to invest in the development of our workforce.

You have been increasingly recognized for spearheading out-of-the-box programs and initiatives at TESDA. Could you tell us more about these programs? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in implementing them?

I thank President [Benigno] Aquino for his all-out support to our work in TESDA. I am confident that this administration’s investment in the 21st century skilled Filipino workforce is a smart move.

Our mandate encourages innovativeness and creativity in the way middle-level manpower training in the country should be managed. We have tried a “paradigm shift” and we are pleased to see favorable results. Thinking outside-the-box heightened accessibility of our training programs through the TESDA Specialista Technopreneurship Program , TESDA Mobile Training Plus Park and Train, and the TESDA Online Program.

Creating a big change in the connotation of tech-voc helped us put a premium in the role of middle-level manpower and ensured a concrete and real career path for our graduates. With TESDA Specialista, Filipino skilled workers are able to see their own specialty and take pride in the dignity of their work. With Mobile Training, we have reached the unreached, and with TESDA Online Program, we made access to our courses 24/7 and at the comforts of one’s home.

One of the greatest challenges we faced was changing the mindset of many young Filipinos. It used to be our toughest enemy. Not a long time ago, the stigma attached to tech-voc and the penchant for a college diploma caused a second-rate status to TESDA courses. I think we have succeeded in strengthening the Filipinos’ self-worth. I’m glad that we have eradicated the “TESDA ka lang” stigma among TESDA graduates.

Last year, our enrollees reached a total of 1.8 million. This proves that many Filipino youth have now changed their outlook about TVET.

Since your days in Congress, fighting corruption has been one of your main advocacies. Are you hopeful that the Philippines will be able to sustain its recent gains in improving governance?

As representative of the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption prior to joining the Cabinet, I found it easier to relate with and translate to action President Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” campaign. At TESDA, my first 100 days were devoted to improving the agency’s efficiency and reducing its vulnerability to corruption. I am proud to say that we have driven TESDA to greater heights today by upholding the highest ethical standards within its bureaucracy.

When an anti-corruption agenda is pursued, the result will always be good governance. In the process, the people will realize that they should be active in the fight against graft and corruption. Also, private sector activities are enabled. With these developments, inclusive growth is not impossible. Indeed, turning the spotlight toward the economy requires challenging the mindset of many Filipinos about what the government does.

I am hopeful that we will be able to sustain our economic gains under the Aquino administration but positive thinking should be translated to positive doing. Our task is to continue planting the seeds of structural transformation while putting transparency, accountability, and participation at the heart of what we do in the government.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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