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BPO workers warned:Upgrade or lose to AI

Carlo S. Lorenciana (The Freeman) - June 15, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — BPO (business process outsourcing) workers are warned to upgrade their skills or lose their jobs to automation in years' time.

This was the stern warning posed by Christopher Monterola, professor at the Asian Institute of Management, before the Cebu business community during the Entrepreneurs Summit in Cebu City on Thursday.

In an interview, Monterola presented a study, which showed that about 49% of the country's labor force must be upskilled to combat the effects of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

A key industry in danger is the BPO, a business that has fueled Cebu's economic growth in the last decade.

He pointed out that around 800,000 BPO workers might lose their jobs in the next five years if they don't upgrade their skills as automation gradually replaces key human functions.

He noted AI's emergence poses risks to jobs in the BPO sector.

Monterola said the country's BPO industry currently employs more than one million workers who are earning very well.

Cebu alone employs around 160,000 workers as of end 2018.

He further noted that 78% of the country’s workforce have 50% chance of being automated.

Aside from BPO, he said the top sectors at risk of being affected by automation include agriculture workers, construction workers and sales people. He added telemarketing will soon be automated.

In an earlier interview with Cebu IT BPM Organization (CIB.O) managing director Wilfredo Sa-a Jr., he said automation has tempered the employment growth in Cebu’s BPO sector.

He said the industry's direction is now towards the non-voice sector.

He said BPO industry was looking to upgrade its workers' skills.

The growth in the sector was slowing as companies look increasingly towards AI as part of their operations.

BPO companies have been working to help call center agents upgrade their skills to higher value industries such as healthcare information management, software development and data analytics.

Contact center agents have been urged to take a more proactive approach to self-improvement, education and skills development so they acquire up-to-date and industry-standard skills to keep them competitive in the jobs market.

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