News Analysis Society

The ant and the ox


Among the many wise sayings of the ancient Chinese Taoist philosopher, Lao Tzu, is this: “An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox”. That’s fairly self-explanatory – an active force, however small, will achieve more momentum than a large inactive one. It’s a wisdom, however, that can be applied to many aspects of life.

Here, we’re going to apply it to the subject of human capital – if you like, people futures. This is a resource which economies depend on for their growth and development. People are the basic raw material – they’re the clay that needs to be molded to challenge the future. Amounts of this clay vary from country to country – the Philippines, fortunately, has plenty of it. The quality of the clay, however, also varies – and that we shall look at later in this infographic series on human capital.

But, to get back to Lao Tzu, having large quantities of clay is no advantage if it’s not fashioned and used; a country with a fraction of that amount will have far greater impact if it’s shaped and utilised.

With that, let’s turn to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Human Capital Index (GHCI) which evaluates 130 countries world wide. From that list we’ve extracted the global rankings of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). This is the Philippines’ peer group and the region where competition is at its sharpest in all things – including workforces.

Here, specifically, we’re looking at the first of the four sub-indexes which comprise the GHCI.  This deals with ‘Capacity’, and captures the percentage of the population that’s achieved at least primary, (lower) secondary or tertiary education, respectively, and the proportion of the population that has a basic level of literacy and numeracy.

Without further ado, here are the results for that sub-index. Philippines, 19th; Singapore, 27th; Malaysia, 32nd; Indonesia, 64th; Thailand, 77th; Laos, 84th; Myanmar, 84th; Vietnam, 85th; Brunei, 93rd; Cambodia, 102nd.

Hidden in this, however, is an indicator that really needs to be looked at – it’s the Philippines’ ranking for literacy and numeracy in the 15 to 24 year age group. This is what that shows. Singapore, 26th; Indonesia, 41st; Brunei, 45th; Thailand, 71st; Malaysia, 76th; Philippines, 77th; Vietnam, 79th; Myanmar, 90th; Cambodia, 98th; Laos, 102nd.

With that exception, on balance across the spectrum the Philippines does well in terms of Capacity – top position in Asean; 19th in the world. In fact, this placing on this sub-index is what raised the Philippines’ overall profile on the 2017 GHCI, getting it into the 64th slot globally and 4th in Asean.

What all this underscores, then, is that the Philippines has the basic human capital to produce an efficient and valuable workforce. And a sizeable one at that, given its youthfulness. In other words, the Philippines has a lot of very valuable clay.

It’s important, however, to understand what its success in the Capacity sub-index means in real terms. What it doesn’t mean is that the Philippines has the 19th best-educated people on the planet any more than it means the people of the Kyrgyz Republic (placed 1st on this sub-index) are the best-educated followed by second-place Kazakhstan and Armenia, third.

What it does show, though, is that there’s plenty here to build on. A more educated population is better prepared to adapt to new technologies, innovate and compete on a global level – and at the end of the day that’s what all this is about. Increasingly, industry and commerce are being run by tech-led innovative workforces as the capacity for the unskilled and semi-skilled worker diminishes.

New technologies and innovation are making the manual worker redundant. Economies which fail to invest for the future, therefore, will get hit by a double-whammy – they’ll have no capacity to compete in terms of productivity and they’ll be saddled with a rising unemployment bill.

In the first instance, then, what we’re looking at here is having human resources that can be trained and adapted to meet the challenges of the future. After that it’s about how well those resources are being cared for – whether they’re being nurtured or whether they’re being squandered. Whether, in Lao Tzu’s words, they have the makings of a colony of industrious ants or the lethargy of a dozing ox.

We’ll be assessing that in the final three parts of this infographic series when we look at the sub-indexes which deal with Deployment, Development and Know-How. At this stage, the point is the Philippines has a tremendous amount of human capital. And that is undeniable.

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