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Government must increase education investments to improve PHL tech talent

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THE GOVERNMENT must ramp up investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to improve the Philippines’ competitiveness in technology talent, according to an expert.

While updated modules on programming are already being offered to students, access to these opportunities needs to be improved, Jay Pegarido, country manager at tech firm Sansan Global Development Center, Inc., said in an interview with BusinessWorld.

“Providing financial support to schools, supporting internships and apprenticeships to students, and developing STEM-related joint training programs,” he said.

“Competition is growing in the Philippines for software developers, and companies are having to find new ways to attract the best talent in the space as we head into the end of the year,” Mr. Pegarido added.

Software developer was the second top-paying job last year with an average monthly wage of P70,595, data from the Occupational Wages Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority showed.

A March report from the International Data Corp., a global market intelligence company, said around 60-80% of Asia Pacific organizations are seeing an information technology skills shortage, struggling to fill vacancies.

In a July report, the Asian Development Bank said the Philippines should use education technology to bridge the skills gap or risk job losses due to rapid technological advancement.

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), also add to tech talent competition, but not to a worrying extent in the short- to medium-term, Mr. Pegarido said.

“The difficulty and cost involved in hiring exceptional tech talent has caused some firms to examine how AI may be able to replace or augment some functions traditionally delivered by human software engineers — but demand remains high for human capital,” he said.

A study from McKinsey in June showed generative AI allowing software developers to complete code tasks up to twice as fast.

“The real outcome [for AI] in the short- to medium-term will be increased productivity and more effective IT teams than ever before from a performance standpoint,” Mr. Pegarido said. “As someone who has worked in the tech sector for decades, in both the Philippines and overseas in markets like Japan, I remain convinced that having an excellent human team is more essential than ever.”

“If people in charge of building tomorrow’s IT teams in the Philippines like me are rapidly hiring talent, it’s a sure sign you don’t need to be worried about robots taking over just yet. The Philippines has a bright future as a very human tech hub ahead of it,” he added.

Public and private sector leaders should also ensure the country is well-positioned to compete globally in terms of emerging technologies, Mr. Pegarido said.

Sansan opened its development center in Cebu last year, with plans to double its current team size and hire over 50 more software engineers next year, he said.

“We believe more firms across Southeast Asia will continue investing in their digital transformation journeys that the pandemic served as a catalyst for,” he noted as an outlook for the tech sector next year. — Miguel Hanz L. Antivola

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