ANALYSIS: How technology will change your job

Jose Galang — Your Business

Posted at Apr 12 2018 08:59 PM

If you are now employed as a medical transcriptionist in an IT company, perhaps it’s time you started learning other work skills that will prepare you for a new job. Medical transcription is one of low-skill occupations that will soon be phased out, a new study says.

New technologies in industries that will spur future economic growth across Asia, including the Philippines, are likely to generate high-skill jobs but there will also be many workers that will be pushed aside, according to the just released Asian Development Bank (ADB) study.

For instance, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines, a leading source of growth in the economy for the past several decades, is projected to cut routine, process-driven jobs that require little thinking. Around 47 percent of jobs in the local BPO industry are said to be in this category.

Across the developing economies of Asia, there will be an accelerating movement from jobs that involve routine and manual tasks to new ones that will require more analytical thinking and the use of information and communication technology (ICT), says the study which forms part of the ADB’s Asian Development Outlook 2018.

Technologies such as robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and the internet “will help drive prosperity”, the report says. However, “over half of the jobs in some economies in developing Asia are at risk” from these new technologies, the report cites other studies as saying.

Already, employment in new types of jobs is now increasing at a pace 2.6 percentage points faster than overall employment growth. A large part of productivity gains came from technological advances within sectors, such as high-yielding crop varieties in agriculture, modern machine tools in manufacturing, and ICT in services.

Over the past few decades, most Asian economies have recorded large reductions in poverty, notes the report, amid robust job creation that has come with improved productivity and rising earnings for workers.

Although the transition to more technology-based jobs may not be abrupt, there will still be need for government policy response to provide protection for displaced workers and assist them in grabbing new opportunities. Coordinated action will be needed, the ADB report says, on skills development, labor regulation, social protection and income redistribution.

Philippines slowest

A detailed analysis of trends in five Asian countries—India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines—shows that the pace of expansion in jobs intensive in non-routine cognitive tasks has been slowest in the Philippines. In the other countries, not only was the growth in these jobs faster, employment in manual jobs also contracted in Indonesia, Thailand, and, to a lesser extent, India.

In contrast, employment in the Philippines registered high growth in jobs intensive in routine cognitive tasks, which include many types of jobs in IT-business process outsourcing. Call center jobs grew from less than 100,000 in 2004 to around 1 million in 2013. The ADB study says “this may change” as the industry shifts toward more non-routine cognitive tasks.

The report cites projections by the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines that say the share of low-skilled BPO workers (doing simple entry-level, process-driven tasks that require little abstract thinking and autonomy) will decline from 47 percent in 2016 to 27 percent in 2022. The share of medium-skill occupations is seen to increase from 38 percent to 46 percent, and high-skill occupations from 15 percent to 27 percent over the same period.

High-skill jobs include computer programmer, computer engineer, health professional (nurse), financial expert, and design professional. These jobs involve complicated tasks that require specialized expertise, abstract thinking and autonomy.

Another group, medium-skill jobs involving complicated tasks that require experience, abstract thinking, and situational response, include accounting and bookkeeping clerk, computer assistant (animation, data analysis, digital production), and health assistant.

The ADB study says workers employed as medical transcriptionists may lose their jobs to increasingly sophisticated software able to recognize voice, text and image signals. Transforming these works into non-routine cognitive jobs in the BPO industry will require retraining and skills development, says the ABD report.

Silver lining

It’s not all bleak, though. New opportunities are expected to arise for more complex BPO services. They will be driven by greater demand and can expand along with new technologies. They will require more specialized training.

Government and industry will need to keep watch of technology-driven change that will displace workers who may not possess the right skills for new jobs that will emerge. 

Also, private businesses and whole industries will need to adjust to new ways of producing and distributing goods and services, the report points out. Failing to adjust could cause disruptions along existing supply chains that may cause unemployment, it says.

“In addition to more job losses, routine and manual workers will likely experience lower wages growth, worsening income inequality,” the report warns.

The ADB study points to certain patterns in jobs in advanced economies that could highlight possible industries where high-skills may be needed in developing countries. In the United States, for example, 15 percent of employment is in health care and education, while in Asia’s lower- and middle-income economies these sectors provide only 3.5 percent to 6 percent, indicating room for growth.

Also, jobs in finance, insurance, real estate and other business services account for 1.5 percent to 6 percent of total in Asia’s developing countries. In the US, this sector provides 19 percent of all jobs.

Furthermore, there are industries where automating jobs may not be technically or economically viable. The report cites the case of textiles, apparel, and leather goods and food and beverages production where industrial robots have yet to prove their capability for technological sophistication such as in stitching cloth.

Two industries in Asia that are using industrial robots extensively—electrical and electronics, and automobile manufacture—still account for only about 13 percent of all manufacturing employment. 

Some jobs affected by the entry of technology have not totally disappeared, but only got restructured. In these cases, machines replaced routine tasks, which allowed the employees to focus on more complex tasks.

For instance, when banks introduced ATMs, there were fears that tellers would no longer be needed. But it turned out that while ATMs got the task of counting and dispensing cash, the tellers’ work was upgraded to the more challenging customer relationship management.

“New technologies often automate only some tasks of a job, not the whole job,” says the report. “Any job consists of a number of tasks, and the tasks can be classified as either routine or note, and either manual or cognitive. Automation targets mainly routine tasks.”

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.