Industry-led skills training

Changing lives, breaking glass ceilings

A construction firm's leader shares her career journey in the male-dominated industry.

Feature | Cebu City, Philippines | 24 March 2023
Kim Rose Tan. © Minette Rimando/ILO
CEBU CITY, Philippines – Climate change affects the lives of millions of people. Subjected to occasional devastating typhoons, Cebu is particularly vulnerable to increasingly extreme weather events.

Kim Rose Tan, the President and Chief Executive Officer of KRT Construction, has steered her company towards helping improve culverts and drainage structures in Cebu and Mandaue City, urban areas plagued by frequent knee-deep flooding.

After working on high-rise buildings, she changed her focus to flood mitigation and road repair.

“I shifted to flood control projects and road concreting, road rehabilitations two years ago,” said Ms Tan. “The recent floods we have encountered have prompted the government to work on flood control. Due to calamities like the typhoons, it is very challenging. It is a tough job but very rewarding to be part of the solution.”

After Super Typhoon Rai (Odette) hit Cebu, Ms Tan also became involved in projects to construct evacuation sites along with flood control and road repair. The 42-year-old CEO said one of her priorities is to ensure the safety of her workers.

“I closely follow international standards. I always tell my project engineers and managers that safety comes first – before anything else,” she explained. “My workers are part of the team. They are my business associates. When they are in good condition, they can be more productive and work very well. It is a holistic approach. They will take care of my business if I take care of them.”

We need skilled workers given the scarcity of human resources that I encountered."

Kim Rose Tan, KRT Construction President & CEO
She is a mother of three boys and did not start her career in construction. She went to medical school and became qualified as a doctor, and obtained her licence as a registered nurse. She wanted to fulfil her parents' dreams before her desire to be a civil engineer. Her passion, however, brought her back to the construction industry. She co-founded a real estate development company with her brother, and later began on-the-job training at a large construction company.

In 2018, Ms Tan took the plunge and started her own construction business. In addition to multiple crises such as the super typhoon, climate change, financial constraints, the COVID-19 lockdown and sudden inflation, she faced a gender barrier– the need to break through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated construction industry.

“When I started this business, I got bullied but my dad reminded me to be strong in the career path I chose,” Ms Tan said. “I never stopped believing in myself. Every hardship made me stronger, and I always pray for the strength to continue living my passion.”

She was struck by the industry’s human resources problem – a marked shortage of skilled labourers in the construction industry. Many Filipinos in the field have been hired to work overseas.

Kim Rose Tan listens to a female construction worker during a career guidance seminar in Cebu City in March 2023. © Minette Rimando/ILO
In response to the increasing demand for skilled construction workers, the International Labour Organization (ILO) – working through the UK government-funded Skills for Prosperity Programme in the Philippines (SfP-Philippines) – has pursued a multi-stakeholder partnership in Region 7 by implementing an inclusive, area-based lifelong learning model. The programme has collaborated with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Cebu Contractors’ Association, Inc. (CCA), local governments and other members of the construction industry in Cebu City and provided industry-specific skills training, vocational guidance, and lifelong learning.

As an employer and member of CCA, Ms Tan advocated for an industry-led skills development through the multi-stakeholder partnership. She also recently embedded entrepreneurial learning to the 93 graduates of the pilot implementation on technical vocational education and training (TVET) with her entrepreneurial journey.

The active involvement of multi-stakeholder partners not only equipped the graduates with in-demand skills but also connected them with employers like Ms Tan, which most significantly provided them employment or entrepreneurial prospects in the construction industry.

“Partners in the pilot implementation are highly active in ensuring an inclusive, area-based lifelong learning mechanism with a focus on skills upgrading in the construction industry,” said Khalid Hassan, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines. “It supports effective labour market transitions, responsive to current and future industry demands while also targeting those individuals who most need our support.”

As an employer in the construction industry, Ms Tan underlined the value of an industry-led, multi-stakeholder partnership to address challenges.

“We need skilled workers given the scarcity of human resources that I encountered,” said Ms Tan. “We need more trainings like these. We need more of these skilled workers. Imagine if a construction worker has one, two or three children – it creates a multiplier effect by giving them employment. The end result is very rewarding.”