Article: How labor policies in ASEAN are responding to growing automation threat


How labor policies in ASEAN are responding to growing automation threat

With the fourth industrial revolution reaching at the footsteps of economies across the globe, what changes in labor policies are required within ASEAN that today is one of the most diverse and populous of labor markets across the globe?
How labor policies in ASEAN are responding to growing automation threat

A defining characteristic of the 21st-century business world has been the noted increase in the usage of technology across its various functions. From sales to service delivery mechanisms to human capital management, all undergone significant changes to adapt to a changing paradigm. But besides the increased efficiency that many businesses have accrued due to investments into upgrading their technological application, such investments have greatly reshaped the way human talent and the workforce at large interacts with prospective employers. With the projected the rise of such technology across various parts of the globe, labor markets, especially the one growing at significantly high rates, stand the most affected. 

This is key issues facing many of the ASEAN economies. Some of the countries with a growing workforce like India and China have been over the years tuning their labor policies accordingly, albeit at varying rates of success. While China has been able to establish a uniformly skilled workforce owing its regulated education and skilling programs, the job seekers in the country usually have uniform skills and as a result wages across the land have been on the rise with companies being able to enjoy the increase in productivity owing to using advanced technologies while maintaining a healthy employment rate. This, while a country like India has been slow in recognizing the onset of tech-driven employment shifts but the country too has begun recognizing the scope of such shifts and labor policies around skilling and job creation are being reshaped accordingly. Although the final results are yet to be seen, the impact on the labor markets across regions of such high labor density. Similar problems are being experienced in Southeast Asian countries. 

The automation of work – driven primarily driven through increased adoption of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) which have become to be known as heralding in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With the increased developments in the Internet of things (IoT), a tech-driven future seems to be one that is to restructure jobs roles and boost productivity and profit. The challenging part for countries in this situation though remains to figure out the human talent part of the equation. Reports have already noted that the rising usage of such technologies threatens the stability of low- and mid-skilled jobs in many emerging countries. A list of countries that features many ASEAN member states.

The rise of automation 

Automation today holds the key to some of the most significant changes in labor markets, its potential expands further into social, cultural, and political changes. But the shifts in job markets have been the first point of contact where countries and their policymakers are slowly waking to its rapidly changing nature. Today labor policies are in need to reflect the urgency within labor markets to adapt and ensure job seekers are able to access well-paying jobs in a heavily automated world.

As shifts in the capital allotment and technological adoption increase, developing countries, especially ones with a large working population need progressive labor policies that help marketers to adopt changes like the advent of gig economy, workforce layoffs all while meeting the needs for skilling and reskilling as skillset preferences evolve. These are serious matters around which many recent labor policy shifts have been undertaken within ASEAN nations. 

Although the rise of automation threatens many jobs in the short runs, technologies like AI, robotics and machine learning can help create jobs. Recent reports show that globally, the market changes created by AI would lead to an overall increase in jobs by 2022. According to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) called The Future of Jobs 2018 highlights that across various economies, the growth of artificial intelligence could create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years. But this is not to mean that such new jobs are going to created in areas that are already familiar to the growing working population of southeast Asia. The report notes that with such this net positive job growth, the impact on the jobs market would also be significant. There is expected to be a major shift in quality, location, and permanency for the new roles. And companies are expected to expand the use of contractors doing specialized work and utilize remote staffing.

How countries are dealing with such problems 

ASEAN member states today are witnessing high rates of economic growth. So much so that a recent Mckinsey report put many countries in the region as the most promising emerging economies across the globe. From the economic leader of the region of Indonesia to large talent pools like Vietnam and Cambodia, all economies have been experiencing growth. But many such countries today slowly adapting to jobs change and many still remain highly driven by low skilled jobs that tun the threat of becoming obsolete. Vietnam has become preferred manufacturing destination over the years, suddenly saw a steep rise in manufacturing jobs as a result of the US-China trade war and the increasing wage structure in countries like China. Cambodia, despite having a large workforce finds its large part of such workforce engaged in low skilled manufacturing jobs, with many being a part of the unorganized sector. 

On the other end of the spectrum, countries like Singapore, owing to their relatively smaller size and better economic position has been pushing skilling and reskilling opportunities to enable its domestic workforce to access better-paying jobs. But even it doesn’t remain completely beyond the impact of automation and AI as many expect the jobs market in the next few years to evolve sharply as a result of such forces. It remains to be seen whether such skilling efforts enable their domestic workforce to whether such changes. 

In addition to reskilling, it is imperative to look at how job seekers are dealing with changes in the workplace. Both HR and labor policymakers need to pay close attention to the rise of gig economy and need to ensure that such an advent leads to better productivity and more jobs rather than pushing more of the population into the unorganized sector. Concepts like  Universal basic income and other similar cash transfers have already become a topic of discussion among ASEAN states and it might soon become necessary to pass policies that regulate such an advent before its impact on job structures become permanent without providing any financial protection/ benefit to the ones who get kicked out of being contributing members to the economy. Labor policies of the region have to reflect this reality.  

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Topics: Technology, #AutomationAndJobs

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