Saturday, 8 September 2007

Ten Letters

ALL in 10 letters.

That’s right. It seems that these days, the entire nation’s future rests on only 10 letters. Well, nine letters to be exact, but one is twice important.

B-G-I-N-O-P-R-S-U. The future of the Philippines is all there. Rearrange the order, repeat the “N” twice, and you can decipher the hope for our future.

What are they? Why BPO and NURSING, of course. Who can open a paper these days without seeing something on one or the other?

Whether to favorite destinations like the United States and the United Kingdom, or less favored ones such as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, everyone’s ambition, it seems, is to go there and work as a nurse. So much so that in a nation where there seems to be a college or university in every street corner, we now have a shortage of institutions to meet the insatiable demand for nursing education.

Those who manage to escape the forces of the nursing magnet, or simply want to stay at home instead of roaming the world caring for the ill and infirm, end up mostly in one place — the call center. Business process outsourcing (BPO), or simply put, the export of work routines that foreign companies see as “non-core” and “non value-adding” to their organizations, has become the career of choice for our well-spoken and well-educated workforce, graduated from esteemed centers of learning like the Ateneo, La Salle and UP.

There’s nothing wrong per se to having a current competitive advantage in at least two sectors that provide mass employment for our young people. After all, the more of us are in employment, the less burden it will be for the state (and indeed for our families, relatives and friends) to provide the necessary financial support to those that would otherwise be out of work. And of course, tax revenues and remittance inflows from these sectors are becoming a larger and larger component of our gross domestic product.

For now, it seems, we at least have some answers to the all important question – “how shall we provide work for our countrymen?”

“For now,” because whether we realize it or not, nursing and BPO can only be the answers for so long. I have purposely alluded to this earlier in the piece, by saying that we have a “current” competitive advantage in both sectors.

By current, I meant the “here and now” only. Whether or not we still have this edge in years to come remains to be seen, and is something that we need to invest a lot of work into.

While both appear unrelated at first, there is a lot in common between BPO and nursing than we might think.

Both are in the service sector, with people being their most important resource.

And the nature of this resource is precisely where our future problems are likely to come from.

One thing we need to realize is that we are producing levels of these resources, OVER AND ABOVE what our local economy alone can fully utilize.

To use an old economy analogy, these are “export-orientated” sectors that need foreign demand, otherwise we will have excess production that our domestic requirements alone can never hope to utilize.

It is clear then that this “foreign demand” has to constantly be there, or we will have an excess of resources with little use for our own consumption.

But how robust and reliable is this foreign demand that we are talking about?

Can we rely on this to continue well into the future?

NOTE: Warm Greetings to my brother, Atty. Aristotle “Totol” Batuhan, who celebrated his birthday yesterday.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, September 08, 2007 (

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