ASEAN manufacturers have entered the robot age and the advancements are accelerating rapidly. While the technologies won’t directly lead to job replacement, around 56% of all salaried employees in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam will face risks of displacement in the next few decades, according to a new study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

With more than 632 million people in the region, ASEAN has seen growth in disposable incomes and an increasingly educated workforce. The introduction of technology in its labor markets, therefore, brings much potential and challenge to the ten countries.

“It is clear that technologies — both current and forthcoming — will increase productivity, render some occupations obsolete and create new ones,” the report says. “The real question lies in whether ASEAN can take advantage of the benefits technology offers and if it can also adequately prepare its workforce.”

The study shows that currently robots are being deployed “to raise the productivity of higher skilled workers, rather than replace them,” and more than 60% of enterprises surveyed are optimistic about the influence.

It does warn, however, that the situation is different in labor-intensive sectors, such as textiles, clothing and footwear. These industries provide more than 9 million jobs in ASEAN, with the majority of employees being young females, and the lower-skilled professions “are particularly vulnerable to disruptive technologies, like additive manufacturing and automation.”

Deborah France-Massin, director for the ILO’s Bureau for Employers’ Activities, encourages policy makers in counties that compete on low-wage labor to “create a more conducive environment that leads to greater human capital investment, research and development, and high-value production.”

The report also recommends appropriate training of core skills and technical skills to manage and work effectively with new technologies.

According to the research, ASEAN industries are increasingly seeking employees with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) qualifications, but “young people – in particular young women – are not choosing to study STEM subjects.”

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Edward White