Philippines' 'slow' automation shift may lead to job, investment losses: analyst

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2018 04:26 PM

A woman touches a screen on a robot developed by iFlytek at the outpatient hall of People's Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing, China March 16, 2017. Zhao Naiming/ via Reuters

MANILA - The Philippines' "slow" shift to automation may lead to lower competitiveness and fewer job opportunities in the near future, analysts said Wednesday, as the government continues to urge businesses to invest in artificial intelligence (AI) and upgrade workers' skills.

The Philippines is "a bit behind" its regional peers in terms of data science and digitalization, Asian Institute of Management Senior Data Scientist Christian Alis told ABS-CBN News.

"We've been able to talk to different companies in the region and one of the things they told us is we have fewer data infrastructure and fewer data scientists, and that this could lead to lost opportunities and lower competitiveness," Alis said.

Companies are now looking for employees who can analyze data and "who are better trained for jobs that are AI-enabled" as automation makes services more efficient, he said.

"Employers are now looking for a different skill-set. If we cannot provide that, they might look for those people in other countries," he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo earlier appealed to business owners to invest in human resources to allow workers to cope with the digital shift.

If workers fail to adapt to the movement towards automation, about 900,000 jobs, particularly from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, may be wiped out by technology, a study by management consultancy firm Hungry Workhorse showed.

Automation in the Philippines remains slow as some Filipino business owners are "still struggling to change," said Depender Kumar, a partner of accounting and advisory giant Grant Thornton.

"Your workforce is changing, your technology is changing, so it is slightly difficult to digest change," Kumar said.

"They could be doing this [business] for 30 years, 40 years, and suddenly the technology has come and asking them to change is really difficult," he said.

The "lack of talent" is one of the top reasons why chief executive officers are having a hard time automating their services, a recent study from business management consultant firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Philippines showed.

"As the products get digital, you need more people equipped with digital knowledge and I think that's the gap the country still needs to fill," PwC Chairman Alexander Cabrera told ABS-CBN News.

The "struggle to find the right talent" has been observed in other developing economies, Kumar said, without naming specific countries.

"There are countries who want to do AI but if data management is not done properly, AI will not be good," he said.

Government and industry experts should work together to "level up" the Philippines' applied science courses, Cabrera said.

The training should start in schools "to really develop these talents and make them available to industries," he said.