By Richmond Mercurio (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2017 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — Businessmen are worried that the country’s “golden age of infrastructure” may lose its luster given the shortage in skilled labor in the construction sector.
For both local and foreign businessmen, the realization of the government’s ambitious “Build Build Build” program may take a hit, if such skilled labor supply tightness continues.
“If the economy grows, we do not have enough qualified people. Even the infrastructure, if you talk about it, there’s a shortage in construction workers, welders, and others,” Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president George Barcelon said.
“We do already see the severe shortage in skilled labor. You find enough unskilled labor, but you find severe shortage in skilled labor. If we want to see just half the projects through that are in the pipeline, we cannot cover that with local talents alone because we need more people that understands the industry and will make it better,” European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) president Guenter Taus said separately.
Real estate consultancy services firm Colliers International Philippines said the lack of skilled workers in the country is already causing construction delays in the private sector.
The Duterte administration is ushering in what is touted as the golden age of infrastructure through an aggressive infrastructure spending program.
Dubbed Build Build Build, the government will spend a total of P8.4 trillion or approximately $160 billion for infrastructure in the next six years.
For 2017 alone, the government allocated 5.4 percent of gross domestic product for infrastructure spending.
“If we want to grow at the rate that is forecasted, we need to look at sources of foreign employment in various sectors,” Taus said.
The ECCP has long been lamenting restrictions on international contractors in the country.
At present, foreign contractors in the construction industry operating in the Philippines can only hold 40 percent equity in businesses.
This, according to businessmen, makes foreign investors reluctant to bring in technology and capital into the country.
“Opening up of the construction industry serves many purposes. One, it provides you with the labor you may not have enough of. Second, it provides you with transfer of technology in some fields. And third, it also provides you with competition, it basically keeps costs down,” Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines president Julian Payne said.