BPO firms eye reskilling as AI may lead to job loss

RESKILLING employees rather than external hiring is a priority for organizations as new technology, especially artificial intelligence (AI), now demands new skills in information-technology and business-process management (IT-BPM) services.

This view is backed by research from Everest Group, whose executive on Tuesday underscored the speed by which changes in technology are outpacing the development of compatible skill sets.

“As technology changes, the role of humans change,” said Eric Simonson, Everest Group managing partner of research. “The challenge we’re facing now is not that new technology is replacing jobs—that’s been happening for a long time—what’s happening now is that it’s accelerating. It’s faster than how the labor market are used to dealing with.”

Still, Simonson, speaking during a panel discussion on the ninth International IT-BPM Summit, conceded there will be job losses in the repetitive, rules-based work, leaving the complex work with higher-order skills requirement.

Joselito Uligan, president of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), added that contact-center workers should be first in line for retooling skill sets, as their work will be the ones vulnerable to automation.

“Transactional work will be the ones automated for efficiency,” Uligan said, estimating about 30,000 to 40,000 people handling these simple tasks. “Those people will also be the first people to be prioritized in reskilling and retooling.”

Nonetheless, Simonson cited past surveys that noted contact centers have been adapting to reskilling and upskilling of their organizations to adapt to the demands of new technology.

“In a series of our questions to reskilling and upskilling, even if some results may be overstated, the things to learn are in terms of the rate they’re claiming success in adapting the skills,” Simonson said. “The contact center is where they’re [workers] experiencing the greatest success in repurposing skill sets.”

Opting to reskill or upskill over increasing hiring already with the needed skills may be an obvious strategy, considering the current situation that most Filipinos wishing to enter the BPO industry lack the skills needed by the industry.

IT-BPM companies, according to Uligan, are betting on a retooling strategy to reduce the negative impact of automation and AI.

“There’s a need for every organization, led by leaders themselves, to accelerate upskilling,” said Lito Tayag, chairman of the Board of Trustees IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines.