Edged out by au­to­ma­tion

The cru­cial need to up­grade skill sets is sweep­ing across the re­gion, driven by the adop­tion of tech­nolo­gies that may leave half of the work­force ob­so­lete. By Su­chit Leesa- Nguan­suk

Bangkok Post - - COMPANIES -

As the era of dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion ac­cel­er­ates, digi­ti­sa­tion, au­to­ma­tion, and tech-lit­er­ate per­son­nel are be­com­ing more cru­cial for the econ­omy. The gov­ern­ment needs to sup­port new busi­ness mod­els and re­move out­dated rules and reg­u­la­tions that act as bar­ri­ers to in­no­va­tion.

Re­search shows that dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies — pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ad­di­tive print­ing, the In­ter­net of Things (IoT), nan­otech­nol­ogy, au­to­ma­tion and ro­bot­ics — are not only be­com­ing bet­ter, but are also be­ing in­te­grated into each other. De­creases in costs and in­creases in their ac­ces­si­bil­ity prom­ise fu­ture pros­per­ity and the cre­ation of new jobs. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, these tech­nolo­gies chal­lenge ex­ist­ing work­place con­fig­u­ra­tions, forc­ing dra­matic changes at alarm­ing speeds.

Ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion pa­per ti­tled “The fu­ture of jobs at risk of au­to­ma­tion”, 56% of all em­ploy­ment in Asean-5 is at high risk of dis­place­ment due to tech­nol­ogy over the next decade or two.

Five Asean coun­tries — Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines, Thai­land and Viet­nam — are an­a­lysed in this study. Com­bined, these five economies ac­count for ap­prox­i­mately 80% of the en­tire Asean work­force.

In Thai­land, the au­to­ma­tion risks are no­tably acute for al­most 1 mil­lion shop sales as­sis­tants, 624,000 food ser­vice counter at­ten­dants, 606,000 cooks and more than 800,000 com­bined of­fice clerks and ac­count­ing as­so­ciate pro­fes­sion­als.


Thai­land De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute direc­tor Somkiat Tangkitvanich says ed­u­ca­tion and gov­ern­ment are the two most im­por­tant is­sued for dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion and they are likely to be the coun­try’s bot­tle­neck in dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion.

Poor qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion in the coun­try makes hu­man de­vel­op­ment dif­fi­cult, im­ped­ing the progress of the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion.

“In­stead of wait­ing for ed­u­ca­tion re­form, many of us have em­braced the ed­u­ca­tion sand­box to ex­per­i­ment new mod­els of learn­ing,” says Mr Somkiat.

He pointed out skill sets that can­not be re­placed by ro­bot­ics are mostly those re­lated to cre­ativ­ity and an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing.

In Sin­ga­pore, he says, the gov­ern­ment of­fers free coupons to cit­i­zens to ac­cess pro­grammes to en­hance their skills in the digi­tised econ­omy. The gov­ern­ment also plays an im­por­tant role in help­ing busi­nesses drive their dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tions by set­ting up gov­ern­ment e-ser­vices. How­ever, chal­lenges re­main in that ap­proach, as the Thai gov­ern­ment may not be ag­ile enough to trans­form it­self.

In Thai­land, he sug­gests that the gov­ern­ment needs to re­move out­dated laws, which ob­struct dig­i­tal progress.

The gov­ern­ment should also play a role in ready­ing peo­ple for the ap­proach of dig­i­tal so­ci­ety through hard in­fra­struc­ture — rolling out wire­less in­ter­net in ru­ral ar­eas, in­creas­ing in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion to in­crease dig­i­tal in­clu­sion, as well as al­lo­cat­ing band­width for avail­abil­ity of IoT-re­lated ap­pli­ca­tions in var­i­ous sec­tors.

Soft in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing data pro­tec­tion, pri­vacy laws and open data poli­cies also need to be im­ple­mented.

“The gov­ern­ment’s ac­cess to data has been lim­ited. Some state agen­cies are still op­er­at­ing on pa­per-based data and have ob­structed other or­gan­i­sa­tions from per­form­ing data anal­y­sis,” says Mr Somkiat.

In some coun­tries, weather and geo-lo­ca­tion data are open to the pub­lic, en­abling new busi­ness mod­els and ser­vices to use them for their add-on fea­tures.

Cit­ing the re­port “Dig­i­tal Vor­tex: How Dig­i­tal Dis­rup­tion is Re­defin­ing In­dus­tries” con­ducted by Global Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Busi­ness Trans­for­ma­tion, he says among the 12 in­dus­tries high­lighted in the re­port, tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts and ser­vices have the high­est po­ten­tial for dis­rup­tion over the next five years.

The re­port, con­ducted by Cisco and the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment De­vel­op­ment, shows that data-driven in­dus­tries in gen­eral have the high­est po­ten­tial for dis­rup­tion, in­clud­ing me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and re­tail. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, these are in­dus­tries that rely on tech­nol­ogy-en­abled net­works to ex­change dig­i­tal value, in­clud­ing data and trans­ac­tions.

The dis­rup­tion is be­ing driven by well-funded star­tups, dig­i­tally proac­tive com­peti­tors and, in­creas­ingly, the merg­ing of in­dus­tries as digi­ti­sa­tion frees busi­nesses to ex­pand their value in new mar­kets.


Ger­man-based po­lit­i­cal foun­da­tion Friedrich Ebert Stiftung’s res­i­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tive of In­dia Marc Saxer says the in­creas­ing dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tions mean more au­to­ma­tion, which cre­ates the ques­tion of whether work­force skills can be up­graded enough in time to avoid mass un­em­ploy­ment.

In­creased au­to­ma­tion makes labour less cru­cial due to cost ad­van­tages. In­stead, other fac­tors be­come more im­por­tant — time to mar­ket, sup­ply chain com­plex­ity, rule of law, po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, skilled work­force and qual­ity “This fuel the trend of reshoring man­u­fac­tur­ing to the core mar­ket,” says Mr Saxer.

Ex­port and man­u­fac­tur­ing-led growth in Thai­land is com­ing to an end. As au­to­ma­tion erodes the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage of cheap labour and the growth in un­em­ploy­ment forces the end of man­u­fac­tur­ing-led growth while the slow­down of labour ar­bi­trage and off­shoring bring about the end of ex­port-led growth.

This means Thai­land needs to cre­ate jobs for grow­ing pop­u­la­tions by us­ing ser­vice-led growth. This en­tails jobs in the IT sec­tor and In­ter­net of Things and man­u­fac­tur­ing in the do­mes­tic and Asean mar­ket, the en­trance of green tech­nol­ogy like re­new­able en­ergy, or the en­try of hu­man econ­omy by cre­at­ing skills for de­cent work in the dig­i­tal econ­omy such as teach­ing hu­mans to work along­side ro­bots.

Mr Saxer says the hu­man econ­omy tran­scends the con­flict be­tween cap­i­tal and labour by mak­ing hu­man cap­i­tal the en­gine of the econ­omy.

In the cap­i­tal­ist dig­i­tal econ­omy, he says, hu­mans are needed to col­lab­o­rate with ma­chines, which makes the in­dus­trial pol­icy of dig­i­tal cap­i­tal­ism in­vest­ment in hu­man skills.

Mr Saxer be­lieves that the hu­man econ­omy will un­leash the po­ten­tial of hu­man cap­i­tal to em­pha­sise hu­man tal­ents in cre­ativ­ity, in­no­va­tive­ness, ex­pe­ri­ences, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and so­cial skills and en­hance full ca­pa­bil­i­ties in health, ed­u­ca­tion, safety, ac­cess and so­cial se­cu­rity, which will fuel hu­man cap­i­tal and drive eco­nomic growth and fi­nally lead to de­cent liveli­hoods.


Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity pres­i­dent ad­viser Supot Tiarawut says SMEs, farm­ers, gov­ern­ment and salary­men are the four most at-risk groups to be left be­hind in the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion as their jobs could be re­placed by ro­bot­ics.

He says pol­i­cy­mak­ers also need to al­lo­cate the 700 mega­hertz and 900MHz spectrum to serve 5G tech­nol­ogy and IoT.

G-Able Group ad­vi­sory se­cu­rity Bhume Bhu­mi­ratana says dig­i­tal iden­tity is one of the crit­i­cal fac­tors that de­ter­mine the na­tion’s dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion and ver­ify cit­i­zen iden­tity in con­duct­ing on­line trans­ac­tions.

Sev­eral coun­tries like Swe­den and the US are also pi­lot­ing the use of blockchain as the tech­no­log­i­cal foun­da­tion to ver­ify dig­i­tal iden­tity.

Com­pared with the present tra­di­tional sys­tem wherein cit­i­zen iden­tity is main­tained by the Depart­ment of Pro­vin­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der the In­te­rior Min­istry, blockchain is a trusted dis­trib­uted ledger that has a lower risk of be­ing hacked. The tra­di­tional model is sen­si­tive to data breaches and lim­ited agen­cies are al­lowed to con­nect for data ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Mr Bhume says along with the in­creas­ing fo­cus on na­tional in­ci­dent re­sponses, the gov­ern­ment also needs to en­force cy­ber­se­cu­rity laws that cover pre­ven­tive in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity laws should man­date pub­lic and pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions whose data have been breached to dis­close to the pub­lic and be re­spon­si­ble for those in­ci­dents.

“These mea­sures will strengthen the se­cu­rity pro­tec­tion as they re­flect the or­gan­i­sa­tions’ rep­u­ta­tion,” says Mr Bhume.

‘‘ In­stead of wait­ing for ed­u­ca­tion re­form, many of us have em­braced the ed­u­ca­tion sand­box to ex­per­i­ment new mod­els of learn­ing. SOMKIAT TANGKITVANICH Direc­tor, Thai­land De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute


Dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies are wrestling jobs away from peo­ple. Ac­cord­ing to an ILO pa­per, 56% of all em­ploy­ment in Asean+5 is at high risk of dis­place­ment due to tech­nolo­gies in the next decade or two.

With the dig­i­tal era fast ad­vanc­ing, the gov­ern­ment is urged to re­move bar­ri­ers to in­no­va­tion.

Ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant in the de­vel­op­ment of dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion.

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