Cisco commits to further bridging the IT skills gap in the Philippines by strengthening ties between the academe and its Cisco Networking Academy

‘We are now entering the ‘Internet of Everything’,” declares Louie Castañeda, country manager of Cisco in the Philippines.

One of the biggest trends impacting today’s businesses, Castañeda describes the Internet of Everything as a phenomenon that connects people, data, processes, and things to create products/services of even greater value.

It’s a phenomenon that can be applied to a wide range of industries, apparently. In the arena of sports, for one, wearables that include the likes of the Nike Fuel Band, FitBit and Jawbone comprise the early stages of inception. “Right now, [utilizing] these devices entail that you input information for it to track your steps, sleep patterns, etc. But when wearables eventually evolve into the Internet of Everything, you’ll see these accessories now taking your vital signs all on their own,” explains Castañeda.

In the digital realm, the Internet of Everything is something companies like Cisco find “exciting”. According to Castañeda, the phenomenon actually came about when it was discovered in a recent study by the IDC that despite everything seemingly connected to the Internet, a whopping 99 percent of things actually remain unconnected. “Worldwide, only one percent of things are connected. In the estimate they made, there exists about $14 trillion dollars’ worth of potential revenue opportunity out there for any company who wants to get into the Internet of Everything,” Castañeda shares, adding that as more infrastructure will be needed to connect everything, Cisco, which is steadily evolving from a purely hardware business to a total IT solutions company, is “well poised to offer solutions to the market that enables that.”

An existing skills gap

An IDC study commissioned by Cisco in 2012 explores the networking gap in Asia Pacific. According to Castañeda, there currently exists a gap of roughly around 300,000 networking professionals in Asia Pacific. This figure, he says, is projected to go up to approximately 460,000 by 2016.

“There is a big opportunity out there for networking professionals,” Castañeda says, adding that in the Philippine context, with the looming 2015 deadline for Asean integration, “one of the biggest requirements we can fill would be providing technology skilled persons. And the good thing about the Philippines is that we have three areas that allow us to be very competitive—we have human capital, a good English speaking workforce as shown by the BPO boom, and there is a big consumer demand among Filipinos for technology. These three areas will further drive our economic growth.”

To further leverage on these growth drivers, Cisco, by way of its Cisco Networking Academy (CNA), aims to bridge the networking gap through various ICT skills development initiatives. The program itself isn’t new, as the CNA has been deployed in the Philippines since 1998. “It’s one way Cisco aims to help the Philippines through social innovation. We help communities develop a skilled workforce,” Castañeda shares, adding that, in essence, the academy aims to provide network skills training to students in about 150 academies and schools nationwide that offer the CNA program.

“We used to have only three modules—the CCNA or Cisco Certified Networking Administrator program; CCNA Security; and IT Essentials, which is currently our most popular module—but now we’re also developing a module for the Internet of Everything,” Castañeda informs, adding that outside of the United States, the Philippines currently has the most number of partner academies, graduates and enrollees. “A number of schools, mostly those offering technical courses, currently offer the CNA program. Usually, it’s either an elective or part of the actual curriculum. It’s been a very successful program so far in the Philippines. Currently, we have roughly around 300,000 graduates already,” informs Castañeda.

According to Castañeda, the CNA program has been quite successful with the private sector, but one thing he feels he needs to do moving forward is to partner with the government, enlisting the latter to adopt their technology skills development program for public schools and state universities. “It would be better not only for Cisco but the country as a whole. You need a tech savvy workforce all the more today, and this type of training will allow that. We actually started some discussions with TESDA, DepEd…we tried a program before wherein we identified about 40 high schools to adopt our program, and we trained a number of instructors and professors, but it didn’t really fly. The challenge for programs like this is that it should be sustainable and have government support. It entails constant training and support, which we really need to work on,” avers Castañeda.

Apart from bridging the gap in terms of networking professionals, Castañeda stresses the need to increase the country’s network readiness. “There’s a World Bank study that says a 10 percent increase in the broadband speed of a country translates to one to 1.5 percent growth in GDP. And that’s one of the biggest challenges in the Philippines—how do we improve the infrastructure? Sadly, in terms of network readiness, the Philippines has one of the lowest indices in the Asia Pacific. And with the coming AEC 2015, that’s going to be an even more urgent issue that we need to address. When you open up the market for the ASEAN, all other countries will be offering better infrastructure and facilities. But the potential is there, the conditions are there—we just have to address some basic infrastructure and policy challenges,” Castañeda says.

Published July 20, 2014 in the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin