Technical and vocational education and training and skills development

Skills: My passport to a better future

The ILO-UK Skills for Prosperity Programme helps partners implement pilots on inclusive, area-based and industry-led lifelong learning models in the Philippines.

Comment | 06 September 2023
Bryan Rivera. © Minette Rimando/ILO
CEBU CITY, PHILIPPINES – The scars of Bryan Rivera reveal many of life’s difficulties and struggles. The 36-year-old resident of Cebu City was on the verge of giving up as he became unproductive and began to laze around.

Bryan’s childhood left him with scars that are deeper than one can easily imagine. He was the eldest of 11 children in the family. His father was a mason, and his mother sometimes did other people's laundry to earn a meagre income. However, it was not enough to raise them out of poverty or even feed them during the day.

Bryan would look for food in garbage cans, eating whatever people discarded. It was the only way he and his family could make it through another day. His desperation compelled him to work at the age of six in child labour.

Bryan recalls a typical day. “I get up as early as 3:00 in the morning. I scavenge and trade to get a few pesos. From 5:00 to 7:00 a.m., I sell rags on the street before rushing to school. After school, I continue to sell rags and trade garbage until 11:00 p.m.”

The scars on the side of his body were caused by stray bullets and vehicle scratches. However, that was nothing compared to the scar on his face from defending his mother against his father’s abuses. This incident and his parent’s subsequent separation placed a heavy burden on Bryan to provide for his family.

Against all odds, Bryan graduated high school and came close to completing an associate degree in Secondary Education. Due to financial constraints, however, he was unable to receive his diploma because he had outstanding school fees. He volunteered to teach children, but found it difficult to transition into employment and the labour market.

“For children removed from the worst forms of child labour, it is crucial to provide industry-specific, market-driven skills that will enable them to find decent work,” said Khalid Hassan, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office for the Philippines. “Without quality education, skills training and lifelong learning, their work opportunities and hopes for a better future are weakened. As they become older, they are unable to compete in the labour market.”

According to Director Hassan, it is crucial that educational disadvantage, poverty and discrimination suffered by child labourers like Bryan do not persist as they get older, preventing a smooth transition into the labour market.

The ILO Skills for Prosperity Programme in the Philippines (SfP-Philippines), funded by the United Kingdom government, works to help vulnerable people such as Bryan. As part of its work to enhance equity, quality and relevance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and skills development systems, SfP-Philippines helps partners to implement pilots on inclusive, area-based and industry-led lifelong learning models in Visayas Regions 6, 7 and 8—the island group in the midsection of the Philippines.

In Central Visayas, Region 7, SfP-Philippines collaborated with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Cebu Contractors Association, Inc. (CCA) to organize four skills training programmes on construction painting, masonry, carpentry and reinforced steel works. Bryan is one of the 93 graduates of the pilot implementation of TVET and lifelong learning in Cebu, Labu-Lapu, and Mandaue, based on labour market demands in the construction industry. He completed 301 hours of training and is now certified in carpentry. His life coach, a priest, told him about the ILO programme.

“The ILO training was my passport to a better work future,” Bryan says. “With the help of my trainers, who were mostly engineers, I was able to master and excel in carpentry skills. No one can take those skills away from me. They will serve as my foundation, because success does not happen overnight – it’s step-by-step.”

As a child labourer, Bryan’s life was often at risk. Now he works and trains as a Safety Officer in construction at Primary Homes.

“Safety and health at work is a crucial investment,” explains Bryan. “If there is misalignment, it will affect productivity and the work that needs to be done. I hope to lead a group someday to ensure construction workers are safe and healthy, and that accidents do not happen. If you love your job, no one should get hurt.”

Now that Bryan earns more, he can better provide for his family. He says his mother is happy and they can eat well now – much better than before. And she is proud of him.