Sunday, October 9, 2011

The PESO: Eleven at 11

Alice Fetalvero and I had only a brief chat during breakfast at the cavernous covered patio of the Davao Waterfront Insular Hotel, where the 11th National PESO Congress, an annual pilgrimage of PESO managers, was ongoing. The conversation topic was, of course, the PESO.
Manang Alice, as I call the former vice governor of Romblon, was ecstatic. She is newly-installed as provincial PESO manager and—credit the wise choice of Manang Alice to Governor Lolong—was already planning long-range on how to make the PESO—a most unusual and unique bureaucratic set-up—benefit the Romblomanons.

The Public Employment Service Office, you see, is an “orphan”. Abandoned by the lawmakers who sired it by not assigning a single peso for its operationalization and upkeep—until now, what a pity!—the PESO, for 11 years, has struggled to be alive, reeling on the ropes sometimes, gasping for air most often, as a result of legislative infantilism.

For where can you see a law creating an office but not providing for its roof, personnel, and resources? Only in the PESO law! The PESO law is an “unfunded” law, that’s what the bureaucrats call it, in chorus with the 250 plus and 23 senators who midwifed its birth. To me, however, it’s euphemism for Congressional castration.

So, the Department of Labor and Employment had to adopt the PESO by virtue of sacred and noble duty. The DOLE was at its philanthropic best by, singly and most energetically, pushing the PESO out of its incubator and nudging it to life. By giving the PESO skills, technical know-how, money, and most important of all, reason to live, which are people, the PESO has survived its infancy. It has grown up, exhibiting tentative steps at first, but steadily showing signs of strength and stability as it struggled to be relevant. Were it a grade schooler, at 11, the PESO would have been in Grade 5 by now: a budding adolescent.

Making it easy for jobseekers to meet their match in employers is the main responsibility of the PESO. Over the years, this principal work has evolved—increased, actually—to include the delivery of labor market information—an array of knowledge on where the jobs are; what occupations are in-demand; what the employers look for in workers; how much a particular skill pays, etc.) and services such as counseling, career coaching, training needs assessment, and ultimately, finding a job.

The PESO as a job finder? Yes, of course, given that the country has a working-age population habitually addicted to asking the government to do for them even the simplest of tasks. Like writing a resume? Or correctly filling-up an application form? Or making a referral just like what a politician does in his waking moment?

“Yes, all of those,” I told Manang Alice, “and more. The PESO should be able to cut the downtime that stands between the “job-ready” or “teachable-fit” worker and the discriminating, but exacting, employer. The moment the PESO does this—very professionally, effectively, and quickly—then the perennial problem of workers not finding the right job at the time of his own choosing and of employers not finding the right worker exactly at their time of need, will be eased. The moment the PESO does this—then Congress can be abolished for its fatalistic view of what a law is and should be.

To understand the PESO and appreciate its work, one has to listen to Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz, who says that beyond the structure, the PESO should see itself as a whole and complete set of processes and systems that serves the people’s employment facilitation needs. It must be relevant to be useful. It must deliver correct labor market information. It should even be able to address a gamut of employment and unemployment issues jobseekers and employers face in a globalized world. From a mere intermediary, the PESO will have to transform itself into a frontline service hub capable of responding to changes, trends, and signals of the labor market in a moment’s notice.

I didn’t know if the participants in the Congress, hosted by Region 11, also struggled with the above questions like Manang Alice did. But I noted that one of the most anticipated and applauded Congress highlights was the announcement of Secretary Baldoz that PESO managers nationwide shall have a seat in one of the DOLE’s most important policy instruments, the tripartite Industrial Peace Council which is a dialogue partner of the DOLE.

This should happen soon. I have asked the Secretary how her plan could be realized and she said the government’s representation in the ITCs will be expanded to include PESO managers.

If Manang Alice gets a seat in the ITC as provincial PESO manager, say, for example, in the marble industry ITC, which by the way I don’t know if it exists, then she would be able to participate in the debates and policy discussion on matters relating to Romblon’s marble industry, the province’s only major industry with yet unrealized potential.

And while waiting for that, I suggest that Manang Alice make use of her new position—and the opportunity—to work for the institutionalization of the provincial and municipal PESOs; advocate for PESO best practices; conduct workshops on how to start a business and hold seminars on career development and social entrepreneurship.

This is big work, but knowing her as one who does not to back-off from a great challenge, I guess she can accomplish the task. I this field of employment facilitation, it is my opinion she could be of greater help to Romblon than when she is an elected official.

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