Expert skills bring young mason to places

By Ma. Fatima Cruz

The market for skilled workers abroad is still large and 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, Balbuena didn’t get to 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 took him to the ranks of leadman mason for a construction company in Taguig. 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).

Ayoko sana pumunta dahil akala ko wala akong bagong matututunan [I was hesitant at first because I felt there is nothing new that I needed to learn],” said Balbuena, who later admitted to have been 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 explained.

“We need to do away with those practices and it’s time that we give value to our most valuable asset which is our labor force,” added Maniago. Efforts such as these training programs, in turn, increase the competitiveness of Filipino talent to world-class standards.

The Experto Ako 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.

The mason scholars are excused from their work and, in lieu of this, CEMEX 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, CEMEX offered on-site lodging for mason scholars; however, 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.

Aside from technical skills, the Experto Ako! program also provides vital leadership and values formation workshops to hone the right attitude that is important for professional and personal success.  “Natutunan ko ang kahalagahan ng pakikisama, ang magplano sa buhay, pati na rin maghawak ng negosyo, at marami pang iba [I learned the importance of getting along with people, planning my life, as well as entrepreneurship, and a whole lot more],” shared Balbuena.

The program included a TESDA-supervised assessment that was composed of practical and theoretical knowledge on masonry. In Balbuena’s batch, a hands-on exam required them to fix the campus wall of Cabarrus Elementary School, CEMEX’s adopted school. 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 the ABV Rock Group Company in Saudi Arabia. He knows that his TESDA certification was a big help in providing an edge over other applications.

Thanking CEMEX, TESDA, and PBSP, Balbuena enthused, “Sana po ipagpatuloy pa nila ang Experto Ako program para mas marami pang mga mason na katulad ko ang matulungan at magkaroon ng magandang oportunidad.” [“I hope the Experto Ako program continues to help more masons like me gain better opportunities.”]


The Experto Ako Masonry Skills Training Program also graduated two more batches of scholars in Naga City, Cebu and San Remigio, Cebu. The next leg to be launched this year will take place in Iloilo.