Asean leaders commit to prepare workers for shift to automation

Southeast Asian leaders have put up a united front and vowed to support the enhancement of workers’ skills, especially those in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), as the region braces for challenges brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

President Duterte urged his fellow leaders during the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Thailand to invest in the countries’ greatest resource, its people.

In their joint Asean Leaders’ Vision Statement on Partnership on Sustainability, leader said they have agreed to support inclusive human capital development, regional cooperation and public-private partnership initiatives such as mentorship programs to further enhance skills and capacities of Asean human resources.

Moreover, the leaders also committed to promote inclusive economic growth by equipping Asean to maximize the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution through deepening trade facilitation measures for stronger economic cooperation.

Leaders said they are looking forward to enhancing digital integration with the development of Asean Digital Integration Framework Action Plan 2015-2025 and improving connectivity through sustainable infrastructure, as well to achieve inclusivity by narrowing development gaps in the region.

Duterte also expressed the Philippines’s support for the establishment of an Asean Technical and Vocational Education and Training Development Council.

“MSMEs are the backbone of Asean economies. Let us help MSMEs harness digital technology so they can play a bigger role in the global value chain. We need to recognize that MSMEs can be powerful engines of growth and job creation in our region,” Duterte said in his speech during the plenary session of the summit.

While technological advancements also improve the day-to-day lives of people, the President also acknowledged its downside.

“Cutting-edge [technological] breakthroughs are changing our societies in ways we have yet to fully understand. They empower people. But they also widen existing divisions,” he said.

“Let us maximize the benefits of the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution to accelerate growth, alleviate poverty and bridge socioeconomic gaps,” he added.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said 56 percent of workers in Southeast Asia could be displaced by the global shift to automation.

In the Philippines alone, ILO Enterprise Development and Skills Technical Officer Jordi Prat Tuca said at least 18 million workers could lose their jobs to automation over the next 20 years if Manila will not retool them for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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