How technology is changing jobs and enterprises - Full report

ASEAN in Transformation

03.09.2019 by SEA-VET Content

Jan-Hee Chang, Gary Rynhart and Phu Huynh


Year of Publication:


The apocryphal conversation that took place in the 1950s between Henry Ford II, then chairman of Ford Motor Company, and Walter Reuther, union leader of the United Automobile Workers, while showing him around a highly automated car plant is illustrative of the continual debate on jobs and technology. Ford asked, “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” to which Reuther responded, “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?” The exchange illustrates the symbiotic relationship that exists between technology on one hand and enterprises and people on the other.

Discussions surrounding the rise of technology are often polarizing. Proponents advocate that technology enables people to be freed up from monotonous, routine tasks to perform value added work that is more innovative, improves workplace productivity, and enhances product quality. On the other hand, critics voice grave concern regarding the possible massive displacement of jobs. However, such generalizations do little justice to this topic. The reality is much more complex – the impact of technology on a society varies according to the maturity of its economy as well as the key sectors that constitute its makeup. The impact even varies at an individual level – technology can be perceived as either a threat or an opportunity, depending on one’s unique skill set.

Research into the relationship between technological advancement and jobs has thus far focused on developed economies. To date, no comprehensive study has been conducted for the ten Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a region that, in fact, could be particularly susceptible to technological disruptions, due to the high concentration of labour-intensive manufacturing and service jobs which are at risk of being replaced through automation and digital technologies that are already available today or expected to come into play in the near future.

It is critical for employers, governments, workers and other key stakeholders to actively prepare and respond to the changes taking place in workplaces. In addition, constructive engagement between social partners and educational and training institutions is critical to ensure that the workers of today continue to find meaningful employment tomorrow. Coordinated dialogue at a regional level is also necessary to ensure that the opportunities presented by an integrated economy, connectivity, sector cooperation and dynamism are maximized through the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), enabling freer movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labour and capital.

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