By James M. Noriega
It does not really matter how often I go back to the Philippines. The same nostalgic feeling always brings back old memories but absence and distance have given me a different perspective and appreciation of what I always call home. PHOTO – Author (right) with Filipino worker Ronaldo Go.
The visit this time, however, was for a special purpose. I came home to test and interview shortlisted candidates with the goal of hiring 15 Stainless Steel Tig Welders for a Canadian company, a rare opportunity that could change the lives of the applicants and their families.
How so? For starters, the successful applicants will receive a fortune based on Philippine standards. At $25.62 per hour, they will earn about Php 190 thousand a month, or about Php 2.3 million a year, and with overtime, they can probably add another million pesos.
Likewise, they get medical and dental benefits, paid holidays, and disability and unemployment insurance. The best part is the chance later to become permanent residents of Canada, bring their families with them, and eventually become Canadian citizens. And not to forget, they will be working not in some far-flung area but close to one of the most livable cities in the world, Vancouver.
The interview process was both an eye-opener and a tearjerker. Most of the applicants were former OFWs, with stints in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. One who worked in Kuwait related how for five years he was earning only $500 a month working for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Another described the adverse and dangerous working conditions he had to endure in the mines of Angola for a measly pay. From the horror stories I heard, what was clearly evident were the resiliency and endurance of our overseas workers. When I asked them why they wanted to work overseas, they all gave a common motivation. They said they were not seeking greener pastures nor wanting to improve their skills. What they were simply after was the opportunity to earn a decent pay for a considerable period of time so they could support their families.
Poring over the resumes, with particular attention on the applicants’ training and education, I immediately noticed that trade certification programs are nearly non-existent in the Philippines. Even apprenticeship programs are sadly wanting. Worse, there are stories about nursing and HRM graduates paying their way to get accepted as interns and be able to gain work experience. It is like day and night when one compares the prevailing situation in the Philippines with that in Canada, where there is direct linkage between employers and educational and training institutions, not to mention the government incentives for employers to hire apprentices.
I also found that testing equipment in technical and vocational schools in the Philippines are sorely inadequate and outdated. This was evident when I brought a piece of finished industrial part for the applicants to reproduce. Not one of them could come close to duplicating it. But they claimed that they could do it with the right equipment and material, something that I could relate and attest to, having personal knowledge of the capability of Filipino workers. A foreign recruiter who has no understanding of the unique situation of our local workers and who would base his recruiting decision solely on such an encounter would surely come out empty-handed. I can imagine how many Filipino jobseekers have missed their chance to work abroad because of the substandard equipment and inadequate training they receive at home.
Canadian employers are not looking for cheap labor when they set their eyes on foreign workers. After all, wages are mandated by the Canadian government; the salary offered to foreign workers must be at par with the prevailing industry rate. Recruiters are after skills that they can measure and evaluate during hiring. Amid the prevailing economic slowdown in some parts of the world, Filipino jobseekers are competing against applicants not only from Third World countries but also from the US and Europe. In fact, prior to flying to Manila, I hired a number of American and Italian workers.
The selection process stretching to 12 hours a day for a week was strenuous and exhausting. It was such a welcome relief to be able to make a side trip to the world-famous Palawan Underground River. Returning home after many years of living in Canada – considered as one of the most livable countries in the world – one feels like a fish out of a display aquarium being released into the lake. As soon as you hit the street, you at once sense that you belong and you are back to your elements amid the noise, garbage, traffic, and the hot and humid air. Whatever negative things some foreigners may say about our country, the Philippines remains one of the most beautiful places in the world, even made more wonderful as a destination by Pinoy hospitality.
The days went by in the blink of an eye and it was time to return to Canada. As I headed home, I replayed in my mind how I handled the recruitment process and asked myself if I picked the right applicants. My decision could prove to be a twist of fate to the chosen ones, the same opportunity that was given to my father 46 years ago when he was offered a job in Manila from faraway Ilagan, Isabela. With the able support of my mother, the family survived on their meager government pay and all their nine children turned out to be professionals — justice, banker-writer, engineer-GM, nurse, doctor, architect, dentist, IT manager and animator. I could not help but speculate how the children of these OFWs would turn out some day. Will any of them become the next Mark Zuckerberg or perhaps the first Pinoy Prime Minister of Canada? Who knows? What I am certain about is that I have paid back the break given my father fifteen fold. I feel truly fortunate to be able to share my blessings with some of our kababayan.
(The author is currently Vice President and General Manager at Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. He finished his Mechanical Engineering Degree at the University of the Philippines. He completed his Masters in Business Administration in Ateneo de Manila University and took courses in the Executive MBA program at Simon Fraser University in BC, Canada. Prior to immigrating to Canada in 1997, Noriega worked at Carnation Philippines as Materials Manager, Sandoz Phils. as Production and Logistics Director, and Philippine Steel Corporation as Vice President for Supply Chain. He was former president of the Philippine Institute of Supply Management.)