(Photo grabbed from TESDA's Facebook page)

MANILA -- As the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) marked its 25th year this week, Secretary Isidro Lapeña bared it is now preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, while targeting more people to be trained and get employed.

In an exclusive interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Thursday, Lapeña remarked that the "in" thing now include robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).

"We need to keep up with technology, with the 21st century (learning) environment. I want our (trainees) to be prepared," he emphasized.

This is why, he said, he requested the President that innovation centers must be built for TESDA students.

"I made a proposal for the construction of 23 innovation centers. Three are already being constructed. These will have e-learning systems. We will also roll-out 63 mobile learning facilities," he said.

Lapeña added that the project was already approved, with a PHP40-million budget for each innovation center. The budget will be given in three tranches, and every region will have this center.

The innovation center will be equipped with simulators, computer-aided instructions, and this is where experiments related to technology will be done. The e-learning system is comprised of a computer laboratory, contextual learning, assessment and quality control, according to TESDA.

TESDA Secretary Isidro Lapena (PNA photo by Cristina Arayata)

 "Time will come when AI would answer people's queries. So we need to be prepared for this fourth industrial revolution," he commented.

On the other hand, the 63 mobile learning facilities, each costing PHP25 million, are necessary to better reach the public.

Lapeña said some people could not enroll in TESDA because the facilities are far from their place.

There is also a need, he said, to upgrade the training facilities. Lapeña said that when he assumed his post in 2018, he saw that most of the equipment were outdated, becoming a major challenge for TESDA for the last 25 years.

TESDA administers 123 technology institutions (TTIs) across the country. Most of these have poor or outdated infrastructure and training facilities. Furthermore, only about 23 of them were provided with learning systems that include a computer laboratory and other necessary facilities.

TESDA Secretary Isidro Lapena (second from right) acknowledges employees as the agency celebrated its 25th year, at the the TESDA covered court in Taguig City on Thursday (Aug. 29, 2019). (PNA photo by Cristina Arayata)

Reaching more clients

Among the major goals of TESDA is to reach more people and increase their employment rate.

From 2016 to July 2019, TESDA has trained close to eight million individuals. Out of 7,858,879 TESDA trainees from that period, seven million graduated, and more than five million were certified.

Lapeña clarified that not all TESDA graduates get certified, and not all those who were certified get employed.

"At present, the employment rate (of TESDA certified graduates) is 68.5 percent. We target a 75 percent employability rate by 2020," he said.

To achieve this, TESDA has been partnering with industries.

"While we reach out to the lowest sectors of society, we also need to go after the industry demand. For now, our focus is on agriculture (food security) and construction -- for the government's ‘Build, Build, Build’ program," Lapena said.

The TESDA chief added that partnering with industries and with other government agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is helpful.

"For example, in our partnership with the DPWH, they provide project-based onsite training. The residents in those project areas would mostly benefit from those projects, and they would not need to go far to have their training," he explained.

Lapeña, meanwhile, said TESDA has at least 45 million clientele but has only served an average of 0.9 percent of this target from 2016-2018.

Citing a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) July 2017 Labor Force Survey, Lapeña showed there are 45,789,027 potential clients for technical vocational education and training (TVET) from 2016-2018.

This is comprised of the unemployed (2,373,000), underemployed (29,605,300) and those not in the labor force such as housewives, out-of-school youth, persons with disabilities (13,810,500).

"However, TESDA has only served 1.2 million clients during that period. This represents 2.7 percent of the total potential TVET clientele or an average of 0.9 percent annually," he said.

Lapeña then reiterated that TESDA must be able to reach more clients, and stay true to its tagline, "TESDA Abot Lahat". (PNA)