Robots may soon take over millions of jobs in ASEAN, reveals ILO study

Flagging the imminent takeover of million of jobs by disruptive technologies such as robotics, automation, cloud, Internet of Things etc., a new ILO study urges all stakeholders — government, employers and employees — to lose no time in adapting to these changes to skill their workforce, create meaningful employment and prepare its workforce.
The study, ‘ASEAN in Transformation’, covers five export-oriented sectors — automotive and auto parts; electrical and electronics; textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) in manufacturing, and business process outsourcing and retail in services in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) members — and finds that technologies, both current and forthcoming, will increase productivity, render some occupations obsolete and create new ones.
As the automobile sector accelerates research and development (R&D) with a focus on electric vehicles, hybrids etc, ILO research indicates that automation and robotics will have the largest impact on jobs in the industry throughout the region.
“Robots are becoming better at assembly, cheaper and increasingly able to collaborate with people. They are also critical in making firms more productive and workplaces safer,” it says, adding that these trends have a two-fold effect on the labour force.
First, low-skill workers will find themselves displaced in favour of automation. For instance, over 60 per cent of salaried workers in Indonesia and over 70 per cent of workers in Thailand face high automation risk. Second, manufacturers will increasingly seek higher skilled talent with R&D competencies.
Women workforce
In labour-intensive sectors, such as TCF, the study warns of the “potential dangers” of a ‘business as usual’ approach, especially on women workers who among its largest constituents.
“For example, over 70 per cent of workers in ASEAN’s TCF sector are women. Additionally, the retail and BPO sectors provide critical employment opportunities for women; they make up about 50 per cent of the workforce. However, all three sectors face high automation risk, jeopardizing prospective employment opportunities for the region’s female workers,” says the study by International Labour Organisation (ILO), which conducted more than 330 interviews, 4,000 enterprise surveys and 2,700 student surveys across ASEAN.
“It is critical for employers, governments, workers and other key stakeholders to actively prepare and respond to the changes taking place in workplaces. In addition, constructive engagement between social partners and educational and training institutions is critical to ensure that the workers of today continue to find meaningful employment tomorrow,” adds the study.