June 14, 2019
By: Evident

MANILA, Philippines – As Asia rapidly shifts into automation in various industries, the biggest challenge becomes creating new opportunities for human employees to thrive amid a changing environment.

This is what business and education leaders sought to address in the last leg of Asia Society’s One Step Ahead forum on Tuesday, 4 June at The Peninsula Manila hotel. The forum focused on creating inclusive growth and enhancing the skills of workers to adapt with automation.

“Now more than ever, employers, policy makers, educators, civil society and parents must communicate, must learn and collaborate to understand the fast-approaching future,” said Asia Society President and CEO Doris Magsaysay Ho.

JP Morgan Philippines chair Roberto “Bobbit” Panlilio added: “We believe discussions like this will provide us with insights, foster new approaches to existing challenges, and generate awareness for a more coordinated and concerted effort to ensure that our youth have the skills, tools and the system they need to thrive in the coming generation.”

Fear of automation

One of the biggest fears automation brings is that thousands of workers will lose their jobs to machines. This is especially significant in the Asia Pacific region, which is home to the world’s leading industrial robot usage at 65 percent.

Boris Van, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, however, noted that automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will not replace humans in the workplace.

“AI does not necessarily replace jobs, but it replaces certain activities in jobs,” Van said. “This means that there’s a significant emphasis on reskilling – how do you repurpose your focus into more value-adding activities.

Van cited as an example the automated teller machine (ATM), which, when introduced decades ago, also scared tellers with the prospect of being phased out. What happened instead was that ATMs took the brunt of monetary transactions, which allowed tellers to focus on servicing and advising customers.

“In the future, jobs will increase,” he said. “[The shift to automation] will make us more productive, will open new opportunities to service customers, and will create new industries.”

Working for meaning

For Ayala Corporation Chair and CEO Jaime Zobel de Ayala, who gave the keynote address, more than improving the reskilling and upskilling of workers, companies should reexamine their business models and adapt to generational changes.

“You go back 20, 30 or 40 years from now, just getting a job is important – when [workers] didn’t earn a salary, they move on,” he said. “Nowadays, they want to have real meaning in what they do. They need to see the institutions they work for, whether big or small, contribute something significant.”

Zobel de Ayala said advanced technologies provide new avenues to unlock the talents and energies of workers, including flexible work schedules, cloud-based tools, people analytics and hybrid teams.

“Employees under flexible work arrangements have higher engagement scores,” he said. “The most advanced technologies, innovative offices, and generous benefit packages are nothing if the people – the heart and soul of the company – are disengaged and unhappy.”

The Ayala Corporation chief is a strong believer in the private sector’s capacity to create meaningful change.

“Today’s dynamic and exciting times are slowly giving rise to new skills and ways of working and learning,” he said. “The continued relevance of our companies relies heavily on how well we will ride and adapt to the swing of change.”

Inclusivity and equality

Meanwhile, the Philippine government is also adapting to this changing dynamic by determining their priority areas, and working with industry leaders.

“We are looking into industry participation in TVET (technical and vocational education and training),” Rosanna Urdaneta, Deputy Director-General of the Technical Education and Skills Authority (TESDA), said in Filipino. “For example, if an industry is needed in a particular region, we enlist the help of partners in that industry for that area.”

Urdaneta said that aside from identifying industries that can ensure employment for their graduates, they are also working towards inclusive growth and social equality on the ground.

“We can’t just conduct TVET within metro cities,” she said. “We have to come up with programs that will cater to the needs of indigenous people, former rebels, and rehabilitated drug addicts.”

Other discussions in the forum focused on supply and demand in the labor market, vocational education, and reskilling and upskilling the workforce.

“Bringing together policy makers, educators, industry leaders and civil society in ongoing dialogue – with no less than equity and inclusion as guiding principles – remains a critical component to navigating and framing developments around the changing landscape of the workplace,” noted Carlos Ma. Mendoza, JP Morgan Philippines Senior Country Officer.

Other One Step Ahead forums were conducted in Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Mumbai in the last 5 years. The series serves as a platform where distinguished experts and academics converge to investigate critical issues affecting competitiveness and growth of cities in Asia.

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