Representatives of the Asian Development Bank yesterday discussed the role of technology in the region’s future, arguing that a significant loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector can be curbed if proper social policies are put in place.
Several ADB representatives spoke yesterday during the second day of the bank’s annual meeting in Manila, Philippines, stressing the need for adequate social safety nets, particularly to support those that are unable to develop relevant skills for today and tomorrow’s jobs.
ADB’s president Takehiko Nakao said technology will bring about a significant rise in productivity in Southeast Asian nations in the near future, but expressed fears of exacerbated social inequality if governments fail to put proper welfare programmes in place.
He conceded that a loss of jobs is inevitable in light of the technological advancements to come, but said that well-conceived re-training programmes can help minimise the damage to the job pool.
“Technology is boosting productivity, helping people do more business and earn bigger incomes,” he said.
“But, we can’t forget about the people who may be left behind. Some people will lose their jobs, and it won’t be easy for them to find new ones,” he said, stressing the need for retraining and capacity building programmes for workers in years to come, as well as “minimum protections” for the economically vulnerable.
“Social inequality will be exacerbated by technological advancements. We cannot let the market to its own devices,” Mr Nakao said, adding that countries will need to strengthen their tax-collection systems in order to be able to provide wider social safety nets.
“Every country needs to adapt their tax system to the new reality of growing inequality,” Mr Nakao added.
Speaking at the sidelines of the event, Elisabetta Gentile, an ADB economist, told reporters that while technological improvements will destroy some jobs, they also present lucrative opportunities for manufacturers and workers that can adapt to the new reality.
“Technology is going to have a big impact and it is not going to be always negative,” the economist said. “There are two types of technology: one that can take over a specific task entirely, and another that empowers the human component.
“For example, in a garment factory, we don’t have to assume that all jobs will be lost to technology. We will create robots that can take care of the repetitive tasks, and this will allow workers to take on more creative endeavours.
“Technology can empower humans to do what they do best and allow them to focus on their talents and creativity.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen said at a recent conference on science and technology in Phnom Penh that an emphasis on science and technology in education is key to boost the country’s productivity and economic development.
“65 percent of our population is under the age of 30; we need to take advantage of this opportunity. The development of physical infrastructure is vital to support the country’s growth, but technology and innovation are even more important to increase competitiveness and diversify the economy,” he added
However, the premier also raised concerns about the impact of technology on jobs.
“The Industrial Revolution 4.0 will force companies to change the way they operate,” the premier said. “Technological advancement is accelerating, and the problem we face is clear now: if robots replace people, where will those people work? That’s is an important social issue that we need to worry about.”