Expert skills bring young mason to places
The market for skilled workers abroad is still large and is waiting to be filled, but in the face of increasing competitiveness in the global arena, Filipinos need to continue setting themselves apart with a reputation for excellence and strict work ethics.
The story of 28-year-old Saudi worker Wilbert Balbuena is one of a personal drive to excel, coupled with finding the right opportunities for doing so.
Born in Dumaguete province, Balbuena didn’t finish high school due to hardships, followed by the separation of his parents. However, he pursued his dreams of a better life by going to Manila where he found livelihood as a construction worker.
His commitment to his chosen job and his perseverance eventually led him to the rank of lead mason for a construction company in Taguig City. Balbuena would often go the extra mile for his employer, and these efforts eventually caught the attention of his team’s project engineer who nominated him for further education and skills training.
He was one of the four masons required by their project engineer to attend the “Experto Ako” masonry skills training program organized by cement manufacturer Cemex Philippines in partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).
“I was hesitant at first because I felt there was nothing new that I needed to learn,” Balbuena said. He later admitted to being proven wrong.
Such training programs are important in professionalizing the industry of skilled workers in the country, according to Cemex Philippines Foundation executive director Chito Maniago. “It is a commonly accepted part of our culture to rely on informal means of educating our laborers and workers, such as mostly those in the construction industry—masons, carpenters and the like,” he said.
The masonry skills training program is an intensive 30-day course designed and implemented by Tesda through licensed instructors. The sessions are usually scheduled five days a week, starting as early as 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.
Stipend, food, transportation
The mason scholars are excused from their regular daily work and in lieu of this, the foundation provides stipend, food and transportation allowances, and lodging quarters for all the participants. This way, attending classes and workshops early in the morning will be more convenient.
The program scholars usually come from the existing network of Cemex clients. These construction, engineering and labor companies nominate deserving employees to participate in the program.
In Balbuena’s batch, he was one of the 27 scholars across Luzon who passed the rigorous screening conducted by Tesda and PBSP.
Attending the program is a privilege for chosen ones like Balbuena, who in turn willingly undertook some sacrifices for this opportunity. For instance, instead of availing of onsite lodging, Balbuena chose to commute everyday to be with his then pregnant wife. He would board his motorbike from his residence in Taguig to get to the training site in Antipolo, Rizal province.
Leadership, values formation
Aside from technical skills, the program also provides vital leadership and values formation workshops to hone the right attitude that is important for professional and personal success.
“I learned the importance of getting along with people, planning my life, as well as entrepreneurship skills and a whole lot more,” Balbuena said.
The program includes a Tesda-supervised assessment composed of practical and theoretical knowledge on masonry. After passing the tests, the Experto Ako scholars received their national certificate from Tesda, which is recognized both locally and globally in terms of masonry competency.
With the correct methods and latest technologies in cement application that Balbuena learned, he was able to eventually land a more lucrative job abroad, as a mason foreman for ABV Rock Group Company in Saudi Arabia.
Balbuena said, “I hope the program continues to help more masons like me gain better opportunities.”
Two more batches of scholars in Naga City, Cebu City and San Remigio, Cebu, graduated from the Experto Ako masonry skills training program. The next leg to be launched this year will take place in Iloilo.