MANILA: Mario Balboa had initially planned to return to the Philippines after a year, but his stay in Saudi Arabia has now spanned almost two decades, motivated by his successes and a desire to help other Filipino expats on their career paths.
An electronics and communications engineer, Balboa left his hometown in San Fernando, La Union province and moved to Riyadh in 2004 to work as a business consultant and analyst at Saudi Telecom Co.
Now a senior manager for product development, he enjoyed steady career progression over the years but at some point, saw that many Filipino engineers living and working in the Kingdom lagged behind.
Although they had all the necessary skills, many lacked the proper licenses, certifications, and credentials.
“In any development project here, you will always find a Filipino ... The only problem is that some lack the necessary papers to show that they are certified,” Balboa told Arab News. “If there’s a position where you are capable but not qualified because you don’t have the certification, it’s a lost opportunity.”
The situation prompted him to establish the Philippine Council of Engineers and Architects in the Kingdom in October 2013.
In January 2014, the PCEA signed a cooperation agreement with the Saudi Council of Engineers to exchange expertise and help qualify Philippine professionals in engineering and architectural practice.
A few months later, Balboa also took on board the Philippine government agencies — the Professional Regulation Commission and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority — which inked deals with the SCE for the professional development of Filipino engineers, architects, and technicians.
“The PCEA’s main goal is inclusive progression of Filipino professionals, especially engineers, architects, and technicians, upgrading their respective credentials and qualifications,” Balboa said.
Council’s role becoming increasingly valuable as Kingdom undertakes Vision 2030 megaprojects.
“It helped in making Filipinos, especially the engineers and architects, recognized in terms of professionalism and qualification level.”
Over the past decade, nearly 40,000 Filipino professionals working in Saudi Arabia have, thanks to the PCEA, received training, improved their skills, and obtained official certificates to validate their qualifications.
The efforts have been recognized both in Saudi Arabia and in the Philippines, where last year Balboa received the Presidential Banaag Award, which recognizes individuals advancing the cause of Filipinos overseas.
The PCEA helps connect Filipinos directly with Saudi authorities to evaluate their qualifications.
Leandro Conti, chairman of the PRC’s board of mechanical engineering, told Arab News: “Then they will give you a certificate on the equivalency based on their (Saudi) standards ... which is good for Filipinos so they can be at par with the locals based on their qualifications.”
The certification is becoming increasingly valuable as Saudi Arabia continues to undertake megaprojects as part of its Vision 2030 reform plan.
“Once the projects will be in full swing ... definitely they’ll need Filipinos,” Conti said. “Some of my friends from Dubai and Abu Dhabi came back to Saudi Arabia because of the opportunities.”
Leo Argoso, an engineer who for the past five years has been working for a Saudi company specializing in medical equipment and instruments, was one of those who obtained a good job thanks to the PCEA.
“It was them (the PCEA) who bridged my qualification in order for me to become an SCE member so that I will be able to work my craft here in Saudi Arabia, to be able to take on a position that is equivalent to my level of qualification,” Argoso said.
He knows many other Filipino professionals whose chances on the career ladder got similarly boosted.
“With the help of the PCEA, they were able to fill up what is lacking in their credentials and after some time get recognized by the SCE,” he added.
“Once you are recognized by the SCE, you will be given an ID, proof that you are a legitimate professional and qualified to take on perhaps a higher position than you are currently holding.”