Education seen crucial to ICT future

The country needs to further strengthen its educational program and the English proficiency of Filipinos to be able to maintain its inherent advantages in the global information and communication technology (ICT) industry.

Peter Wallace, business analyst and president of Wallace Business Forum, shared this view during his presentation in the general meeting of the Information Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP) held recently.

Wallace lists ICT among the five areas where the Philippines has "natural" advantages; the others being agriculture, mining, tourism and health care.

Referring primarily to ICT-driven services such as call centers and business process outsourcing (BPO), the former president of the Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Philippines noted that Filipinos have already established a good reputation abroad.

"But we don't have enough English-speaking people. We need to do something about education. We need to have the proper courseware to produce the right skills," Wallace said.

The statistics that Wallace presented showed that total foreign direct investments in the country fell by 30 percent last year. Investments in IT services, however, went up by more than 150 percent, accounted for mostly by the entry of a number of call centers.

"The entry-level salary for call centers, which is somewhere between 12,000 to 15,000 pesos, is good," said Wallace. "But only 5 percent of applicants interviewed reportedly get accepted."

Wallace stressed the need to strengthen the Filipinos' English proficiency to support the demand. The Board of Investments (BOI) is projecting the number of call center seats to double to about 40,000 this year.

The Philippines is regarded as the best destination for outsourcing call center operations in Asia. The country only lags behind India when it comes to BPO services.

During a forum with the IT press and ITAP members, Wallace also stressed the need to create a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), similar to what other countries like Singapore and Thailand have. A proposed bill to create a DICT is currently pending in Congress.

"Pushing for it should be high priority for the private sector," he said.

For its part, ITAP is involved in ongoing initiatives which aim to address the need to create a pool of highly-qualified, English-proficient workforce.

ITAP is one of several local industry associations which have partnered with the Philippine Australia Quality, Technical and Vocational Education Training to create a standard curriculum that caters to the five priority sectors within the outsourced ICT services industry. These sectors are call centers, BPO, medical transcription, software development and animation. The project is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development.

ITAP has also forged a partnership with the American Chamber of Commerce and the Makati Business Club in a project that pushes for better English proficiency among Filipino IT professionals.

"We aim to establish training centers and eventually create certification for English proficiency. We are currently seeking funding for this project," said Sun Microsystems Philippines managing director and ITAP president Cynthia Mamon.

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