Robots, printers, cloud to take jobs from Thais, ADB says

Robots, printers, cloud to take jobs from Thais, ADB says

An employee uses a hoist crane to move the dashboard of a Toyota Motor Corp Hilux pickup truck on the production line at the company's plant in Ban Pho, Chachoengsao  on Oct 13. (Bloomberg photo)
An employee uses a hoist crane to move the dashboard of a Toyota Motor Corp Hilux pickup truck on the production line at the company's plant in Ban Pho, Chachoengsao on Oct 13. (Bloomberg photo)

Robots, 3D printers and cloud networks will steal jobs from workers in Thailand and low-tech Asian nations, according to a new Asian Development Bank study.

About 26% of regular-wage jobs in Thailand, 21% in Indonesia and 20% in the Philippines are at high risk of disappearing as technology displaces workers, according to the ADB's annual Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific report released Tuesday.

For people earning temporary wages and or informally self-employment, the estimates would be two to three times higher.

"Economies that invest in providing high-quality education will likely to be the least affected by disruptive innovations -- and will be better placed to exploit them," the ADB said in the report.

Education is a key stumbling block in Thailand, where the ADB says "underqualification" for manufacturing jobs increasingly is common. Such also is the case in Cambodia and Indonesia, the bank said.

"In some occupations and industries, having a technical qualification is more critical than others," the report explained. "Using labour force survey data, our analysis of Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests that it is high-skilled and a small set of middle-skilled routine occupations where specific technical skills are really necessary."

So while engineers, graphic designers, and printing operators are among workers that increasingly will be in demand, jobs with people performing routine tasks will largely be eliminated through technology, it said.

"Computerisation and automation likely have already had some role to play in dampening the demand for workers, at least in manufacturing. More recent advances could seriously alter the mix of skills, and not just in manufacturing," the report said.

Thailand's rivals in Asia are boosting investment in technology to catch up with advanced countries like Singapore and South Korea. In India and the Philippines, robots and automation are invigorating once-sleepy factories, while China is jumping into factory automation and building computerised controls needed to make high-precision goods like iPhones or cars.

All that could come at the expense of jobs.

Employees assemble the underbody of a Toyota Motor Corp Fortuner sport-utility vehicle on the production line at the company's plant in Ban Pho, Chachoengsao province. The Asian Development Bank warned that technology likely will supplant workers doing simple tasks in Thailand. (Bloomberg photo)

Cloud technologies, for example, "provide an avenue for highly skilled workers in developing economies to market their skills abroad and obtain a higher wage premium without leaving their home countries," the bank said.

While the use of cloud computing and 3D printing in Thailand and Southeast Asia is still nascent, they can "alter the manufacturing sector by significantly reducing production costs of smaller and more customisable products, making it more efficient for production to be relocated closer to the sources of demand."

"If the history of technological change over the last two centuries is a guide to the future," the ADB noted, "occupations involving mastery of new tasks that complement the technologies will arise as replacements for older occupations."

"Developing Asia must ensure that it has an educational system that can produce a critical mass of workers with these top-end skills."


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