The prerequisites of a better nation

Millennials are charting a brighter future with their invaluable contributions

  • May 8, 2019

  • Written by Mark Villar, DPWH Secretary

There are plenty of misconceptions against millennials. Critics would point out that they feel entitled, possess no respect for authority, and devoid of the ability to stick to a job. As a public servant, with almost half of my staff belonging to the Generation Y, I’d like to prove those misconceptions otherwise.

Being appointed as the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is by far my toughest and most challenging job. What makes this job taxing is working towards our aim to achieve the “Golden Age of Infrastructure.” DPWH’s mission, through the “Build, Build, Build” program, is to design and build better roads, bridges, flood control programs, and other public infrastructure to help decongest traffic, improve the lives of the Filipino people, and ultimately help boost the economy of the country. Much of the success of the agency won’t be attained if it weren’t for these millennials. DPWH thrive in a multi-generational workplace, where genuine discourse is present and problems are solved from the source.

Challenges force us to think outside the box. For millennials, the box may not even exist. Where we would normally associate a solution with the usual square, the millennials will ask — “why not a circle or a star?” While some, especially those who are traditional, may perceive this as an affront to authority, I deem these questions necessary, and demand answers—the first step to pushing boundaries and eventually changing status quo. When Albert Einstein said “Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results,” he was not kidding.

I agree the millennials may be different, but all the generations before them are different in their own ways. Born in the era of social media and evolving technology, millennials definitely offer a different kind of mix in the workplace, and I look at this as progress and growth. Confronted with the challenge of better monitoring of thousands of projects nationwide spread over 81 provinces—DPWH is now equipped with drones, mobile based application systems, geo-tagging, and a centralised monitoring tool that finally puts an end to the threat of ghost projects.

Whoever said millennials are entitled probably never understood where they’re coming from. At one point, conformity to tradition was celebrated and linearity was a popular choice. There was a strict definition for success—but with advent of independent information, advocacies and the beliefs are now shaped from a spectrum of meaning and form rather than a singularity of definition.

One of my first reforms in the department was liberalization in terms of feedback mechanisms. We opened a 24/7 secretary’s hotline to directly address complaints. By empowering the citizens to report, we improve our monitoring mechanisms.

Do not get me wrong—millennials are not entitled, but they do need to be treated equally, fairly, and with respect. I will be the first to advocate that youth be given a place at the table.

In fact, I find myself continuously seeking their suggestions, advice and, even so far as, let them lead the team. My relationship with them is a two-way street: I let them suggest and comment on what I need to improve on, and in return I do the same. No holds barred. As the leader of the team, I can be their harshest critic and at the same time, their biggest supporter.
When I was young, my parents taught us we had to work hard for anything above the minimum. Growing up, my allowance would only cover for my lodging expenses and daily subsistence. If I wanted to go to the cinema or watch basketball, I had to work for it. While I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I had to work in the cafeteria so I could earn extra money to go out.

Working for the government is a conscious and decisive choice. It is not an eight to five job. There will be days when we have to work way past midnight, during holidays, or even before dawn. It is not for everyone, but I would always remind my team that we are at a critical phase where we could opt to deliver the minimum or choose to change the course of infrastructure history. If we are to do this right, Build Build Build would change the way we look at 81 provinces, 146 cities, and 1489 municipalities across the country. Every generation is distinct but I would often remind our team that if we are to realize this vision — we need all generations in DPWH to own the vision of this program. It needs the concerted effort of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Xennials, Millennials, and iGen if we are to make it a reality.

Today, disruptive change is possible. George Bernard Shaw once said that, “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

This essay was first published on BluPrint Special Issue 1 2019.

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