Message at the 39th National Conference of Employers
Theme: “The Future is Now: Labor and Social Policies in the Age of Disruption”
Marriott Grand Ballrooms A & B, Marriott Hotel Manila, Pasay City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Mr. Edgardo Lacson, ECOP Chairman; Mr. Donald Dee, ECOP President; Mr. Renato Almeda, NCE 39 Chair; Mr. Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., Honorary Chairman; Dr. Francis Chua, Chairman Emeritus; Atty. Ancheta Tan, President Emeritus; Atty. Rene Soriano, ECOP Honorary President; Mr. Domingo Yap, President of FFCCCII; the Board of Governors, Council of Leaders, and corporate officers; members of the organizing committee; members of the diplomatic corps; our esteemed business leaders; conference delegates: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!
Let me first congratulate you for what I am sure is going to be another successful conference. It is heartening to know that this event is already the 39thof its kind, dedicated to conversations, not just about business systems, but also on how to become better employers.
Your quest for continuous improvement is especially important in the context of a world that is changing faster than ever. The Age of Disruption has changed the way we communicate, learn, interact, and work— creating numerous opportunities and risks for both employees and employers alike. Labor and social policies need to adapt to these disruptions, to minimize the social unrest that usually follows such massive planetary changes.
In light of these changes, there are crucial conversations to be had about how to move forward without leaving anyone behind. This is why today’s event is both timely and highly critical. You will be engaging in conversations about paradigm shifts that are so impactful and inescapable as we stand on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I pray that concrete actions will come of this event, and deeper collaborations will be forged after your conference.
According to Forbes Insights, at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution “is the marriage of physical and digital technologies such as analytics, artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and the internet of things.” The World Economic Forum characterizes it as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
In my meetings with many of you, many of our country’s biggest employers, in whose hands lie the welfare of millions of workers, I have learned that you spend sleepless nights asking this question: Will this fusion of technologies do more good or harm in the long run?
Given the vast and complicated influence of technology, there is no simple answer. They say that already, software and machines are faster and better than humans. I do not know if you agree with that. Hospitals are depending on computers to check patients’ vital signs, sending more accurate and up-to-date information to doctors who are on standby. I do not know if you have heard of Momentum Machines’ hamburger-cooking robot, which could reportedly serve 360 burgers an hour. Or Heliograf, which writes articles for the Washington Post. McKinsey & Co. has said that technology can automate 45 percent of jobs in the US.
Here in the Philippines, Rey Lugtu, president and chief transformation officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital transformation consultancy firm, has said that artificial intelligence can wipe out 900,000 jobs in the business process outsourcing industry in the next three years. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in January that in the next three to five years, artificial intelligence will hit our country really hard.
So, not only are employers apprehensive about the investments needed to compete in this fast-changing world. So are workers worried about the stability of their jobs. Because they do not have the resources to expand their skills, blue-collared workers fear being replaced by robots. Farmers worry that their traditional practices cannot compete with the scale of production of big companies. Such concerns loom over them every day: What will technology take away from them next? This, in contrast to our personal excitement about what more it can bring us in the future.
Socially, there are other considerations, too. The accessibility of the online world has allowed us to establish more connections over the web, but might be disconnecting us from our relationships offline. Social media has been used as a tool for activism by bringing people together, but it has also allowed the creation of echo chambers which prevent us from listening to opposing views.
This paradox shows how discussions about the technological revolution should acknowledge that its territory is largely a gray area. But what is astounding about technology is its adaptability. Should problems be tied to its benefits, we can continue to think of ways to improve it.
The jury is still out on the outcomes of these developments. What is definitive, however, is that there will be people left behind. Our ability to ignore their plight would be borne out of callous privilege. But our ability to instead pay close attention so that we know how to help them reflects our empathy. You as employers, and us as public servants, should be the first ones to concern ourselves with what all these changes would mean for Filipino workers and Filipino businessmen.
Yesterday, I was invited to speak at the Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society. The speaker who spoke before me was Ross Dawson, futurist and Founding Chairman of Future Exploration Network in Australia, who shared his insights on how advances in artificial intelligence are birthing new ways of doing things.
He asserted that rapidly developing technology will make routine manual labor obsolete and non-routine manual labor will soon follow. The jobs of the future, therefore, will be cognitive-focused, meaning they require deductive reasoning, as well as human emotion and empathy. To stay ahead, it is important that we develop uniquely human capabilities—adaptability, creativity, and relationship skills—that set us apart from machines. Mr. Dawson identified a number of skills that we will need in the future workforce, including design-thinking, analysis, and relationship-building.
Think about it: what makes us unique as human beings is our incomparable imagination and tenacity. There are no limits to what we can create. And if we use that to come up with ways to improve the quality of life of every Filipino, we are heading towards a more promising future.
One way to do this is to recognize that we must invest in our people’s learning. This is not about pitting humans versus machines; this is about developing both so that they can complement each other.
Our concept of innovation must include making technology more accessible to the ordinary Filipino. All of us here probably get less and less surprised at the arrival of increasingly advanced gadgets. But for many of our countrymen in far-flung areas, basic access to electricity is still a concern. In some far-flung municipalities, students cannot imagine having light that would allow them to study at home after dark. For many Filipinos in the laylayan, anything that can increase their productivity can spell a different life for their families.
For example, last year, our Angat Buhay partner, ASA Philippines Foundation, went to Agutaya, Palawan to turn over Solar Home Systems to 120 households. Angat Buhay is the anti-poverty program of the Office of the Vice President, launched immediately after we assumed office two years ago, to reach the farthest and poorest municipalities in the country. Every week, we visit poor barangays to find out our people’s greatest needs, and it is through Angat Buhay that we have discovered this truth: that while many of us here never think twice about switching the lights on in our homes, simple solar panels changed the lives of residents of Barangay Diit in Agutaya.
Mer Abus, who works as a weaver, said that she could finish only one banigin a month because they could only work during the day. But with the solar panels, they can already work as early as 3 o’clock in the morning, and as late as 10 o’clock in the evening, to make at least three banigsand other buri products a day that they can sell to tourists in Coron, in Puerto Princesa, and in nearby Amanpulo.
Last March, with our partner [Tapukan] Farmers Movement for Progress and Concord, Inc., we went to [Piagapo] Lanao del Sur, to turn over livelihood subsidies to abaca farmers. One farmer, Malik Mohammad, shared how they had to travel to another town in [Balo-i] just to strip their abaca. But with their new communal stripping machine, they no longer have to spend on travel, and they can produce better quality abaca fibers and earn more.
Our team also went to Tangcal in Lanao del Norte to turn over livelihood subsidies and equipment to the Small Banisilon Farmers Cooperative, Inc. The cooperative is a group of coconut farmers composed mostly of women, who also want to produce virgin coconut oil. Linda Aponi, one of the women farmers, shared that her dream is for her children to finish school. But even with both her and her husband working, producing charcoal from coconut shells, they earn just enough for their everyday needs.
Through Angat Buhay, we gave Linda and her community virgin coconut oil-extracting equipment and some training funds. The best part was seeing her awe and excitement as they tried out their new equipment. With their new machines, they are no longer restricted to their usual coconut products. This opens up a new market, and therefore another source of income.
These are simple examples of how technology can be an ally instead of a threat, if we give the poor access to products that can help them rise from their situation.
Another key investment is in research and development. There are many brilliant Filipinos who have so much to offer, if only they are given the resources to maximize their talents.
In 2017, the Philippines was ranked 73rdout of 127 countries in the Global Innovation Index. We are only 95thin the human capital and research pillar, which is partly based on our ranking in gross expenditure on research and development at 96th. The latest available data reflect that only 0.14 percent of our GDP in 2013 was allocated to research and development.
Investment in research and development will open many new doors for progress, not only in terms of physical technology but also knowledge-sharing. For any industry that we can think of, science can contribute to improving systems. Imagine what learning about sustainable agricultural practices can do for our farmers. Or how evidence-based microfinance strategies can help our small business owners.
Of course, the responsibility, and especially the resources, to undertake all these [are] not restricted to the government. We are also in an age of collaboration. All over the world, we are seeing deeper engagement among the government, private companies, civil society, and the local communities. This is in recognition of the different assets each sector has to offer, and more and more, we are discovering just how far we can go if we weave those strengths together.
From a series of discussions I had with representatives from different industries, one salient point was how opportunities for employment are not maximized. This is due to either lack of training, or a mismatch between the skills developed and the demand by the market.
For example, last month, we brought our Angat Buhay partñers with us to Barangay San Dionisio in Paranaque. Through our Metro Laylayan outreach program, we wanted to link residents who are in need of employment—residents of Barangay San Dionisio in Parañaque—to employers who had, in total, over 900 openings for factory workers, electricians, engineers, etc. Unfortunately, there were only around 230 applicants, and out of those, only 80 proceeded to final interviews, due to lack of qualifications and limitations in deployment. What this reflects is a need for conversations so that demand… so that the demand and supply are in sync.
As we discuss the demands of the times, I hope we are all inspired to think about our various strengths and envision how we can use them best. Let us take it upon ourselves to discover in which part of the progress equation we can make the most impact. More than an age of technology and disruption, we can recreate the present into an age of cooperation and inclusivity.
Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, summarized it well when he wrote, and I quote: “In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to ‘robotize’ humanity, and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature— creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure that the latter prevails.” Close quote.
No matter how we feel about the growing power of technology over our lives, it is definitely coming. Quelling human creativity is not a valid option. Instead, we must remember that at the end of the day, these things are still made with human hands and thought up by the human mind. Whether they will be tools for good or bad would depend on the human heart. Thus, we all have a crucial role to play.
As citizens, we must consciously use these resources in a responsible way. As government officials, it is our obligation to ensure that citizens know they have an ally in us. As employers, you have the task of creating fair spaces for your workers. And as human beings, we all must meet our fellow human beings with empathy.
Because in this age of disruption—an era of great potential, but also a time when many things are competing for our attention—let us not forget to hold on to the best parts of ourselves. That is how we can truly make the most out of these technologies.
Thank you very much, and may you have a productive conference ahead! Mabuhay po kayong lahat!