Industry experts yesterday discussed the role of automatisation in the garment and textiles industry as the sector braces itself for the changes that will inevitably come as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Speaking at ‘Digital Future Talk: Industry 4.0 Focus Garment’, an event held yesterday at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, industry insiders emphasised that factories must embrace the latest technological trends and modernise in order to remain competitive.
However, they argued that Cambodian factories face a number of challenges in their quest to modernise, including the provision of the training needed to upskill their workforce.
The discussion on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its effect on the country’s manufacturing sector took place as the Kingdom grapples with the possibility of losing its Everything-but-arms (EBA) status with the European Union, the biggest importer of Cambodian garments.
The experts agreed that digitalisation and automation in the manufacturing sector will make Cambodian products more desirable abroad, contributing to the country’s long-term economic growth. However, they expressed concern that this wave of automation could result in the loss of thousands of jobs to machines.
John Cha, member of the executive committee of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), downplayed these concerns.
“We have more orders. We need more workers. And we are more automated now compared to 20 years ago when everything was manual. Automation did not remove workers,” Mr Cha said.
“There are various levels of adaptation [to Industry 4.0]. Some [factories] are at the very initial stages. Some are very advanced,” he said.
He said Cambodia is on track to successfully adapt to Industry 4.0, adding that GMAC has its own strategy to aid workers in the transition to a more automated workplace. He said at the Cambodian Garment Training Institute workers from any member factory can be trained.
“We are working to increase our competitiveness. We are working to improve in terms of costs, logistics, and other challenges in our industry.
“We will try our best and we will survive,” Mr Cha added.
Speaking at a high-level seminar on the Fourth Industrial Revolution in September, Phan Phalla, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said that Cambodian policymakers are focusing on ensuring the nation is in a good position to reap the benefits of recent technological advancements.
He said the government aims to ensure the country can adapt and transform in line with changes in technological trends while minimising the social and economic costs of transitioning into a more technologically advanced economy.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution may bring common opportunities, including increasing wealth, productivity and acting as a powerful force for economic inclusion,” he said.
He said that new technologies – particularly artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, blockchain technology, and 3D printing – may provide less developed countries an opportunity to leapfrog economically, bypassing traditional phases of development.
“New technologies present some serious challenges for all countries, such as the prospect of job losses, increase unemployment among lower-skilled workers, and cyber-attacks that could prove just as damaging and costly as a physical attack on the nation,” Mr Phalla said.
“Preparing for the digital economy and responding to the Fourth Industrial Revolution is one of the major priorities of the Royal Government in the next mandate,” he added.