Recruiting overseas Filipino professionals can help organisations fill roles with high-quality talent.
By Michael Switow
Ron Oliver Santor, a full-stack software engineer with a resume built on fintech experience, left his home in Manila in 2018 to advance his career. The pay and opportunities seemed better in Singapore where he joined 200,000 of his countrymen, more than half of whom were professionals like himself.
Santor was working in infotech for a company that contracted his services to PayPal Singapore when the pandemic hit. Retrenched, he needed to return to the Philippines but found the job search to be challenging.
“I was worried about the accessibility of job opportunities for me given my current location, and I wasn’t sure how to find the right connections to land a good role,” Santor explains.
“Being not physically present to apply for a job has been quite tough for me as it usually takes a while before companies in the Philippines respond to my applications,” adds Santos Delos Santos, an auditor who was working with PwC Luxembourg before returning home to take a position as a finance manager with an e-commerce company.
Santor and Santos’ situations are hardly unique. So many Filipinos work overseas—an estimated 10 million people in jobs that run the gamut from frontline service staff to supply chain experts remit US$30 billion annually—that there’s a special term for those who return home: Balik Bayan. This phrase originally referred to the corrugated boxes filled with food, toys, and electronics sent as presents by overseas Filipinos to their families.
At the same time, many Filipino companies face a talent crunch. In this climate, the recruitment agency Robert Walters saw an opportunity. Nearly four years ago, it started its own Balik Bayan initiative, leveraging an international network of offices to place overseas Filipinos with jobs back home.
“The Balik Bayan campaign was created by Robert Walters Philippines to help our clients overcome the shortage of highly skilled talent in the Philippines,” says Shane Garcellano, the company’s international candidate manager. “It’s a creative solution since we see that a lot of companies here are looking for professionals with niche skill sets.”
Whilst the government of the Philippines has programmes to assist returning workers, few private sector agencies specialise in this niche.
This creates complications for the rising number of Filipino professionals returning home due to the pandemic. Some, like Santor, have been laid off. For others, the sense of homesickness has been heightened by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“Given the current situation, Filipino professionals who are based overseas are now more open to consider opportunities in the Philippines just to be with their family,” says Garcellano.
In addition to IT, Robert Walters’ Balik Bayan programme places candidates working in accounting and finance, banking and financial services, human resources, sales, marketing, supply chain procurement, and logistics.
“There are specific skill sets that are hard to find in the market, particularly in the area of digital,” agrees John Michael Federico, head of HR for Amway Philippines and digital HR business partner for southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
Building a new website was a business priority for Amway Philippines, which wanted to provide Amway business owners and customers with easier access to its products. Once Federico expanded his search to include overseas professionals, he says it became quicker and easier to fill the positions needed to realise the company’s strategy.
“Many companies here are undergoing a digital transformation to stay competitive,” Federico says. “Yet most of the talent with digital skill sets are working abroad where the pay is more competitive and working environment more advanced.”
Federico hits on one of the biggest challenges that companies in the Philippines face when recruiting overseas Filipino professionals: salaries. Garcellano estimates that most candidates need to accept a pay cut of 30 to 40 per cent, though living expenses are likely to be lower as well.
“I was concerned about the lower salary,” says Santor. “I needed to find a good compromise to my level of expectations as I move forward in my chosen career.”
Other barriers to recruitment have traditionally included a lack of access to overseas candidates and longer waiting times before candidates can move home. Domestic political considerations can provide another deterrent to overseas professionals who have secure jobs. President Rodrigo Duterte’s government has led to a harsh policing of drugs, granted sweeping powers to security forces, and cracked down on the media. Recruiters say that whilst some candidates do not want to move back for this reason, family considerations are more important than politics.
“Filipinos with international experience are an asset to any team,” says Garcellano. “They can communicate their ideas and thoughts in a clear and precise manner, have the versatility to adapt to evolving environments, and are adventurous individuals who can start things from scratch. Their experience also gives them an advantage when interacting with international stakeholders.”
“There are a lot of advantages to hiring Balik Bayan talent,” agrees Federico. “They have acquired experience in fast-paced environments and have different practices and mindsets.”
Santor is now settling back into life in Manila, where he has found a position with a fintech firm. He says he enjoys being back with his family and believes the Philippines has plenty to offer in terms of career growth and new opportunities.
Robert Walters, meanwhile, also has “return home” programmes to place overseas Singaporeans, Indonesians, and Vietnamese employees who would like to work in their home countries.