Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez dispelled fears over possible job losses due to the emerging new technologies in various industries.
“Technology leads to innovation and new approach in doing things. It won’t always lead to loss of jobs but rather provide opportunities for the industry to increase productivity and introduce new high-paying jobs for Filipino workers. We should welcome it and be ready to adapt to this phase of industrialization. In fact, continuous innovation is needed if companies are to remain competitive,” said Sec. Lopez.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) chief acknowledged technology is essential to improve efficiencies, and productivity. He noted however that the Filipino workforce must be upskilled and retrained to remain in demand in any type of business.
“People will have to always acquire new skills and learnings to remain relevant. There are current programs integrating new skillset requirements with schools and training centers to prepare the students and the current workforce. Many companies also provide retraining and capacity building programs as well as apprenticeship opportunities,” shared Sec. Lopez.
The trade chief emphasized that technology change is not just happening now as there have been different periods of industrialization — from the first to the fourth Industrial Revolution—where forms of jobs changed but the human labor market remained relevant and needed. This started with manual labor to produce things, leading into the advent of mass production and concepts of having production lines where workers learned how to run and work with machines.
Sec. Lopez underscored that when people worked with machines, jobs were not lost as it opened other areas of employment such as manufacturing, servicing, and maintenance of machines.
He cited the entry of automated teller machines (ATMs) in banks as an example, noting that there was a fear back then that bank tellers would lose their jobs. As of today, bank tellers are still present and needed with more value added functions, focusing on account management and customer service. Jobs were not lost since the ATMs also serve the transaction needs of customers 24/7, beyond office hours and tellers were not performing these tasks anyway. Thus, the use of ATMs provided greater customer service and better productivity. Sec. Lopez added that the loading of cash in each ATM as well as its maintenance still require human labor.
The coming of internet and connectivity brought a lot of new earning opportunities in e-commerce, more buyer-seller platforms such as Airbnb, eBay, Grab, and tons of opportunities such as Youtube-ing, in game development and gaming, digital advertising and networking.
“The case of ATMs is the same with the advent of robots and mechanization, which usually perform repetitive, dangerous or high-precision jobs. Humans are still needed to design, manufacture, program or train the system software and maintain the robots,” Sec. Lopez added.
In the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), chatbots and data analytics, the trade chief said that new skillsets are required. Many things are happening and bound to change. Some systems are now AI-enabled, making the jobs of people easier. But people are also the ones developing and maintaining the AI systems. New courses and training programs are on these topics.
Upon consultation with AI industry experts, Dado Banatao and George Yang of AI-Pros, the DTI Secretary noted that the use of AI in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry is a win-win for both the industry and Filipino workforce. While AI is cost-effective for completing multiple tasks faster and with less error, it will also allow the human workforce to increase their competitiveness in performing tasks ranging from simple to complex within the same timeframe, which are high-value and high-paying tasks.
“By combining the sizeable Filipino workforce possessing the appropriate skills and talents with AI-powered technologies, the Philippines will be poised to be the AI-driven BPO capital of the world,” said Sec. Lopez.
“We are now seeing people in the BPO industry operating AI-enabled systems, where previously rejected job seekers in BPOs are now finding themselves with more job opportunities to do simpler tasks in operating AI-enabled systems. We’ve seen BPO operations in Manila where AI and chatbots are the first line of contact of clients. However, these were managed by a human operator, who is also now capable of managing two or three simultaneous calls attended by the AI-enabled system,” shared the trade chief.
According to George Yang, AI also widens the reach of opportunities to the underprivileged, citing that even high school graduates, market workers, or street vendors can be trained to operate AI-enabled systems. The most vital requirement is just the ability to understand and speak English, which Filipinos are very good at.
“Such is an example where technology can even make the opportunities more inclusive. Yes, there are challenges but there are more opportunities. Our education and training systems, including TESDA, getting to offer more training programs to enable our workforce to catch up on the new job trends and prepare them for the ever-changing technology. We’re confident that we can achieve this goal of creating job and employment opportunities that are more inclusive even in the future,” Sec. Lopez concluded.
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