PH rolling out BPO workforce plan to address threat of AI

The government said it is working with the private sector to train Filipinos in using “Augmented Intelligence” or AI2 as a solution to the impending threat of artificial intelligence (AI) on the jobs in the BPO industry.

Photo shows AI Pros CEO Yang (standing, right) speaking during the press briefing at the Board of Investments office in Makati City while IT guru Diosdado Banatao, DTI chief Ramon Lopez, and DICT acting secretary Eliseo Rio Jr. listen

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said it is joining forces with tech firm AI Pros to also encourage investors and operators to create more Socially Responsible Business Process Outsourcing (SRBPO) in the countryside.

“Instead of AI replacing jobs in the BPO industry which is estimated to affect half of the 1.3 million jobs in the sector, the workers will be trained and upskilled to make use of AI2-enabled systems. Basically, it’s making the AI system become the solution to the problem,” said DTI secretary Ramon Lopez.

“Augmented Intelligence will combine the power of artificial intelligence with human intelligence to upskill the Filipino workforce and make them more effective and productive by enabling them to do complex and higher-paying tasks. This initiative, summed up under the ‘Philippine AI Workforce’ brand campaign, will provide more jobs to Filipinos and bring the development to rural communities,” DICT acting secretary Eliseo Rio added.

“We are the first country to launch this kind of initiative. Instead of looking at AI as a threat to the BPO industry, the Duterte administration is using AI2 to provide more opportunities for inclusive growth. We will train and enable our workforce, regardless of their background and experience, to use AI2 to perform smarter and complete difficult tasks, and help them move up the value chain. The training will make them employable, operating even in the rural areas to make this program truly inclusive,” said Lopez.

The DTI and DICT said they will introduce the presence of AI2 solution to the BPO sector in the Philippines (PH). The AI2 solution will employ impact sourcing by involving the masses in the sector’s growth. This will allow 482,000 unskilled workers to handle low-skilled work, while 525,000 low-skilled workers will perform mid-skilled work, and 309,000 mid-skilled workers will be able to do high level tasks.

“The entire industry market is worth $262 billion and only $79 billion is outsourced. With the government’s initiative and push for innovation, we will be able to benefit from this market to open up more job opportunities for the Filipinos,” said Lopez.

“The idea here is to empower not only the existing BPO workers but also involve those at the rural areas. A pedicab driver or palengke vendor can be trained in using AI2 and start to perform even high-skilled jobs in IT-BPM,” the trade chief added.

With the help of AI Pros, a technology company founded by Diosdado Banatao and George Yang, industry operators will be assisted in expanding their businesses by designing, developing, and deploying AI2-based services that can be applied to retail, finance, services, and healthcare.

Both Banatao and Yang are successful Filipino entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who are committed to help the Filipinos level-up their skills in the age of technology.

To encourage IT-BPO operators to use an inclusive business model, expand their businesses to provinces and become Socially Responsible BPO, DTI through the Board of Investments (BOI) has this activity in the BOI Investment Priorities Plan, entitled to incentives.

The DTI will then focus on promoting areas with high poverty rates to these companies and provide rural residents with 654,000 jobs.

“Operating in rural communities with high poverty rate will give BPO companies an opportunity to lower their labor cost while providing meaningful employment,” said DTI assistant secretary Rafaelita Aldaba.

“As we deepen our participation and upgrade along the global value chains of multinational companies, investments in AI activities in various sectors of the economy will be supported,” said Lopez while highlighting the inclusion of BPO in the top industry priorities to drive the country’s growth and development under the Inclusive Innovation Industrial Strategy (i3S).

Meanwhile, DICT will supply a fast and inexpensive Internet connection for the BPO operators located in the countryside. DICT’s 4,000 Tech4Ed centers nationwide will also be utilized to assist recruitment and AI training.

According to Rio, the government will focus on rebranding and promoting the new “Philippine AI Workforce” to support the BPO industry and improve the country’s competitiveness.

The BPO industry has been a key driver of PH growth for 15 years, supporting various industries such as banking, retail, property, and providing 18 million employment opportunities nationwide. In a 2017 report, 50% of the BPO operations are starting to be automated.

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