Many have predicted that millions of jobs are in line to become extinct over the next two decades due to automation, but it may not spell the end of overall employment.(Antara Photo/R. Rekotomo)

Will You Lose Your Job in a Few Years After Disruptive Technology Takes Hold?


MAY 04, 2018

Manila. Many have predicted that millions of jobs are in line to become extinct over the next two decades due to automation, but it may not spell the end of overall employment.

A study by McKinsey Global Institute released in 2017 found that up to 800 million global workers, or one-fifth of the global workforce, will lose their jobs to automation, which is expected to come into full effect by 2030.

The study researched 800 occupations in 46 countries and concluded that machine operators and food workers will be hit the hardest, along with professionals employed as accountants, paralegals and even mortgage brokers.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) also found that over next two decades, more than half of all workers in five Southeast Asian countries will be replaced by robots.

ILO assessed that about 137 million workers, or 56 percent of the workforce in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, are threatened by the disruption.

However, ADB officials agree that they remain optimistic that though technology has changed certain job tasks, it actually contributes to higher and faster economic growth.

"Our stance remains optimistic regarding this issue, because we have understood that technology will only impact the task, not the job. Artificial intelligence will take on certain tasks, but it does not mean that the whole job will be lost," Bambang Susantono, ADB vice president for knowledge management and sustainable development, said on Thursday (03/05) in a session of the bank's 51st annual meeting in Manila, the Philippines.

Shifting from one task to another is the key for workers to solve the issue, according to Bambang. He said bank tellers now act more as customer relationship officers since the introduction of cash withdrawal machines.

ADB's Asian Development Outlook 2018 revealed that automation will create higher demand for more goods and services, which in turn will create more new jobs to replace obsolete ones.

Using data from 12 countries in Asia from 2005 to 2015, ADB estimated that 66 percent of jobs in the region, or 101 million jobs per year, were lost to automation. Among the most vulnerable are those in the manufacturing industry.

But, the lender noted that there was an 88 percent increase in employment over the period, or 134 million jobs per year, well offsetting the jobs lost to automation.

"The demand for goods and services is so big that it more than compensates the job loss coming from new technology," said ADB economist Elisabetta Gentile.

"More positive news from technology is that has been adequate task relocation growing in the region," she added.

A growing task relocation means that a country or a region receives relocated tasks from another country to finish certain products. For example, a cloth manufacturer that often orders certain parts of tasks of a product to other countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.

"This task relocation has remained very constant, but it is still good news," Gentile said.

These expert sentiments are also shared among some Indonesian workers, who are confident that they will pick up necessary skills along the way to work with the machines.

"I think sooner or later we will get there. But, I'm not really worried about it because I'm told that the machines are still controlled by humans. Besides, we now run the machines in our current job," said Fuad BM, the chairman of Federation of Metal Workers Union of Indonesia (FSPMI).

Education Holds the Key

The ADB outlook has found that jobs which require cognitive skills and non-routine tasks are the least vulnerable to job loss caused by technology.

Jobs like researchers and managers are also expected to survive the technological disruption.

"Interestingly, general education that provides a solid foundation of philosophy has better employability in the long-term than vocational education," said ADB chief of education sector group Brajesh Panth.

In addition, Panth implied that people with weaker foundational skills learned during childhood and adolescence could find themselves left behind sometime in the future.

"The education system in the region has been too slow to respond this issue," he said.

"To deal with this issue, skills development and continuous training programs are essentials, as well as social security protection," replied Rana Hasan, a development economics director at ADB, who was on the same panel with Panth in a discussion themed "The Future of Skills and Jobs."

In the meantime, Southeast Asia faces low rates of participation in higher education, making it harder for future workers to gain the necessary skills to compete in an automated environment, said Ayako Inagaki, ADB's human and social development director for Southeast Asia.

Ayako said that in Indonesia, vocational education is a more favored choice than general education.

"Digital literacy is now urgently needed in vocational studies," she said.

Sungsup Ra, ADB chairperson of education sector group, highlighted the importance of tailored, just-in-time and lifelong learning for workers at any companies to sustain external changes.

"Collaboration between government and private sectors is needed to give tailored programs that develop specific skill-sets for targeted professions," he said.

"Education is influential in job creation," Ayako said.

The Jakarta Globe was invited by the Asian Development Bank to attend its 51st annual meeting in Manila.