Home Economy Holistic labor dev’t program needed as AI skills demand rises, experts say

Holistic labor dev’t program needed as AI skills demand rises, experts say

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GERD ALTMANN-PIXABAY

By Miguel Hanz L. Antivola, Reporter

The Philippines needs to initiate a comprehensive labor development program to address the increasing demand for artificial intelligence (AI) skills, according to experts.

“The impact of AI on the labor force is very uneven,” Rene E. Ofreneo, a professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman School of Labor and Industrial Relations, said in a phone interview with BusinessWorld on Monday.

“To benefit from AI, the modernization and upgrading of different sectors need to be simultaneous,” he added, noting that varying incremental changes can already be observed in the local economy.

He noted that these effects are more prominent in business process outsourcing (BPO), services, and manufacturing, compared to its potential impact in agriculture and other overlooked sectors that can benefit from such AI-driven efficiency boosts.

In a separate phone interview, Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, said that it will take the country about two years to identify a more significant impact on the labor market from AI.

“Everybody and every field will be affected,” he added, noting that employers and job seekers need to adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by continuous technological advances.

“It’s also a significant challenge for policymakers to address AI for the overall economy,” Mr. Ofreneo said, emphasizing the need to expand its opportunities beyond those only in “the high end of the labor market,” where he cited 82% of the workforce as classified under formal employment.

“Everybody has to adjust, but how can you make AI work in the service of everybody?” he added. “To have an AI revolution, an economic revolution is also needed.”

Data and analytics firm GlobalData said that generative AI job posts spiked in the third quarter due to business competition in the digital landscape, with medium- and long-term talent plans in development for adaptability.

GlobalData noted AI augmentations in data science, code development, machine learning, and cybersecurity among global businesses.

Analytics from the employment-focused social media platform LinkedIn showed a 2.4 times increase in job posts mentioning AI in Southeast Asian markets from two years ago, with a 1.7 times growth in applications versus those that do not mention it.

It observed that 76% of Filipino professionals expect a significant change in their jobs next year driven by AI, with 55% already using generative AI, citing efficiency and productivity benefits.

It added that 55% believe the technology will create more job opportunities outside the metropolitan area due to its capacity for active upskilling and remote work.

However, the Asian Development Bank said in a July report that 20% of Philippine workers face a “high risk of losing their jobs” due to automation.

“The opportunities have everything to do with productivity and managing information,” David R. Hardoon, chief executive officer of Aboitiz Data Innovation Pte. Ltd., said during a fireside chat at the BusinessWorld Forecast 2024 economic forum last week.

“What we should be worried about is another person with the knowledge and skill set we don’t have,” he added.

Mr. Ortiz-Luis urged companies to prepare for losses and savings from tech adaptation, alongside the labor force opening themselves to tech-empowered opportunities. 

“Employers must train to reskill, while job seekers and employees need to adapt to maintain their availability for the job market,” he said. “Know what areas they can skill themselves in.” 

However, Mr. Ofreneo noted the uneven development of technologies across industries parallel to its wavering opportunities for the workforce. 

Displacements and employee downsizing must be addressed immediately because many are already being left behind, he said, observing its impact on the BPO industry alone.

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