Will the advancement in technology actually benefit or hurt our work force? What skills would be needed even with automation? When and how should these skills be formed? How important is it to have socio-emotional skills? What is the situation now in the Philippines? These were some points addressed by an extensive research by Dr. Pablo A. Acosta, a Senior Economist in the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice of the World Bank, presented in a session sponsored by the Association of Placement Practitioners of Colleges and Universities, Inc (APPCU) in St. Scholastica’s College in Manila last Oct. 12, 2018.
An Argentinian national, Dr. Acosta joined the World Bank as a Young Professional in 2008, has worked in 3 regions, and is currently assigned in the East Asia and Pacific Region. He has several academic journal publications, including the journal of International Economics, Economic Development and Culture Change, among others as well as books and chapters in several World Bank publications.
While technology advancement may substitute some workers and cause some job losses, it may also complement others and bring better working conditions. Whether technology hurts or helps workers depends on how feasible it is to automate a job. Repetitive tasks or how routine the tasks in the job are versus how “human” the skills that are needed to complete the task will determine whether technology would be an advantage. Certain jobs cannot be totally replaced by machines such as hotel and restaurant managers while certain jobs will be enhanced by human-technology interactions like finance professionals.
Even with automation, a wide range of knowledge and skills is still needed across occupations. There are job-specific knowledge skills such as how to operate a particular equipment, clerical procedure, basic math, written communication, computer software and hardware, etc. There are digital literacy skills like the use of the internet, database management, accounting software, database user interface, etc. And, very important are socio-emotional and high order cognitive skills such as active listening, critical thinking, reading comprehension, oral communication, complex problem solving, etc.
It is very significant to note, as pointed out in Dr. Acosta’s research, that all these basic skills must have been worked on and instilled as early as in the formative years or in the primary years of education of a child as teaching these become more difficult as they grow older.
In the Philippines, there has been remarkable progress in raising the Education of the labor force but there is still a challenge in filling job vacancies. Firms say that main reasons are due to: lack of skills, lack of experience, preference for jobs abroad, high salary expectations, absence of applicants, and others.
Another aspect that was thoroughly discussed was the importance of Socio-emotional skills (SES). People with higher SES are more likely to have a job, complete secondary school and pursue university studies and are better rewarded by employers by about at least 10%. What are these skills — extraversion, openness, decision making, conscientiousness, grit, agreeableness, emotional stability.
Skills content of jobs is changing. Technology advancement is definitely here to stay. Unknown jobs may emerge and many jobs will be replaced by it. However, so as not to be taken over by robots, more important than the knowledge of the specific job, the uniquely human skills (high order cognitive thinking and soco-emotional skills) as well as skills for interacting with technology (digital literacy) should be given much attention to at this point to keep up with technological transformation.
We are in the digital age and we have to adapt to the rapid changes that are happening globally without neglecting the “human-ness” of the work force. Gone are the days where you will find an employee stay with a company for 30 years. We must slowly shift from the paradigm of traditional learning and move forward to the digital age model. Unless our policy makers and legislators take action toward shaping up faster, we may be left behind.