DTI chief says AI, new tech won’t lead to job loss

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) secretary Ramon Lopez dispelled fears over possible job losses due to the emerging new technologies in various industries.

DTI secretary Ramon Lopez

“Technology leads to innovation and new approach in doing things. It won’t always lead to loss of jobs but rather provide opportunities for the industry to increase productivity and introduce new high-paying jobs for Filipino workers. We should welcome it and be ready to adapt to this phase of industrialization. In fact, continuous innovation is needed if companies are to remain competitive,” said Lopez.

The DTI chief acknowledged technology is essential to improve efficiencies, and productivity. He also noted that upskilling is an important adaptive strategy for Filipino workforce to remain in demand in any type of business.

“People will have to be upskilled and retrained to upgrade their current skills and acquire new ones to remain relevant.  There are current programs integrating new skillset requirements with schools and training centers to prepare the students and the current workforce. Many companies also provide upskilling and retraining programs as well as apprenticeship opportunities,” said Lopez.

The trade chief emphasized that technology change is not just happening now as there have been different periods of industrialization — from the first to the fourth Industrial Revolution — where forms of jobs changed but the human labor market remained relevant and needed.

Lopez said that when people worked with machines, jobs were not lost as it opened other areas of employment such as manufacturing, servicing, and maintenance of machines.

He cited the entry of automated teller machines (ATMs) in banks as an example, noting that there was a fear back then that bank tellers would lose their jobs. As of today, bank tellers are still present and needed with more value added functions, focusing on account management and customer service.

Jobs were not lost since the ATMs also serve the transaction needs of customers 24/7, beyond office hours and tellers were not performing these tasks anyway. Thus, the use of ATMs provided greater customer service and better productivity. Lopez added that the loading of cash in each ATM as well as its maintenance still require human labor.

“The case of ATMs is the same with the advent of robots and mechanization, which usually perform repetitive, dangerous or high-precision jobs.  Humans are still needed to design, manufacture, program or train the system software and maintain the robots” Lopez added.

In the era of artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots and data analytics, Lopez said that new skillsets are required. Some systems are now AI-enabled, but people are also the ones developing and maintaining the AI systems, he said.

Upon consultation with AI industry experts, the DTI chief noted that the use of AI in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is a win-win for both the industry and Filipino workforce.

While AI is cost-effective for completing multiple tasks faster and with less error, it will also allow the human workforce to increase their competitiveness in performing tasks ranging from simple to complex within the same timeframe, which are high-value and high-paying tasks.   

“By combining the sizeable Filipino workforce possessing the appropriate skills and talents with AI-powered technologies, the Philippines will be poised to be the AI-driven BPO capital of the world,” said Lopez.

“We are now seeing people in the BPO industry operating AI-enabled systems, where previously rejected job seekers in BPOs are now finding themselves with more job opportunities to do simpler tasks in operating AI-enabled systems. We’ve seen BPO operations in Manila where AI and chatbots are the first line of contact of clients. However, these were managed by a human operator, who is also now capable of managing two or three simultaneous calls attended by the AI-enabled system,” said Lopez.

According to George Yang of AI-Pros, AI also widens the reach of opportunities to the underprivileged, citing that even high school graduates, market workers, or street vendors can be trained to operate AI-enabled systems. The most vital requirement is just the ability to understand and speak English, which Filipinos are very good at.

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