By Joe Zaldarriaga

Joe Zaldarriaga is a veteran, award-winning communicator immersed in public service within and beyond the energy sector. He has more than 30 years of experience serving the country’s biggest electric distribution utility and is involved in a number of public service functions, as member of various committees on public safety, power supply security and electrification. Concurrently, he is a prominent figure in the Philippine communications industry, as Chairman and Past President of the US-based International Association of Business Communicators Philippines (IABC PH). He is also an awardee of the University of Manila’s Medallion of Honor (Dr. Mariano V. delos Santos Memorial) and a Scroll of Commendation, a testament to his celebrated years in public service exemplified by outstanding communications.
Joe also shares his opinion and outlook on relevant national and consumer issues as a columnist in several prominent publications and is now venturing into new media via hosting a new vlog called Cup of Joe. Previously, Joe was a reporter and desk editor of a Broadcasting Company and the former auditor of the Defense Press Corps of the Philippines. A true green Lasalian, he finished with a degree in Asian Studies specializing in the Japan Studies program at De La Salle University, Manila, where he also spent his entire education.

Last week, I marked my 35th year in Meralco—a career milestone that, looking back, allows me to appreciate the decades of evolution that have changed and defined the way we do communications.

While new technologies have disrupted many aspects of communications, the core principles and skills that drive impact and results remain necessary and relevant today as they were nearly four decades ago. Among these are core soft skills—the importance of which cannot be overemphasized—in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape.

I recently chanced upon a study published by the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) titled “Toward Measuring Soft Skills for Youth Development: A Scoping Study,” which showed that many Filipino workers today lack the soft skills such as collaboration and adaptability needed to address the challenges brought about by artificial intelligence and new technologies.

The study revealed that this competency gap in soft skills stems from the kind of training and skills development received by Filipinos that were mostly geared towards the pre-digital era.

While the study acknowledged that soft skills are taught in schools, it also emphasized the need to better prepare students for the demands of their future workplaces given the increasing importance companies are placing on management, collaboration, and leadership skills.

“Addressing this gap requires a concerted effort from educational institutions, policymakers, and industry leaders to redefine skills development frameworks and prioritize the cultivation of these essential competencies,” the PIDS study emphasized.

As a veteran communications professional, I find the findings of the study concerning given that these attributes are crucial not just in the professional setting but even outside of the workplace.

While technical prowess is undeniably important in navigating and succeeding in the ever-evolving digital realm, the ability to collaborate seamlessly, communicate effectively, and adapt swiftly are equally indispensable.

While professionals today are equipped with a myriad of tools, technical knowledge is only one aspect of the job and it should be acknowledged that today’s young professionals face different evolving challenges that require new approaches as well.

Investing in the education, training, and collaboration of young Filipinos—both in school and in the workforce—is necessary to address our country’s workforce competency gap in terms of soft skills, support human capital development, and futureproof the Filipino workforce.

This is of course not to say that technical training and skills development should take a backset. Rather, developing soft skills among Filipino workers should be viewed as an equally significant investment in business development and in national progress as well. Deficiencies in this aspect do not only hamper the productivity of workers but also negatively impact Filipino competitiveness on the international stage.

For example, the ability to collaborate seamlessly across age groups and professions can lead to more productivity and result in further innovation especially in today’s highly interconnected world. The ability to communicate effectively on the other hand helps businesses connect and engage with their audience and customers better leading to improved brand reputation. In addition, effective leadership and management skills can drive team successes in the workplace which translate to business efficiencies as well.

In the digital age, holistic success hinges not only on technical proficiency but also on the effective cultivation of soft skills. By providing equal importance to the development of both and addressing gaps and deficiencies, our Filipino workers can be in a better position to excel and succeed in the global marketplace.

Let us continue to cultivate soft skills among young Filipino students and professionals by fostering a culture that empowers them so they can thrive and succeed in the digital age.