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Singapore most prepared for workforce automation in APAC

Workforce automation is no longer just something companies adopt for the short term — it is going to be the future of work. As employees in the Asia Pacific (APAC) are increasingly choosing to work from home, many companies have started to use technological solutions to drive greater efficiency and productivity. Workplace automation tools are becoming increasingly accessible to businesses in the ASEAN region as well to improve their workforces.

According to a report by Deloitte, commissioned by Autodesk Foundation, Singapore is the country least at risk from automation, ranking second for preparedness, behind Australia, and ahead of Japan. Heavy investments in education, assist at-risk workers, and support workers’ transition to new roles and industries are some of the key contributing factors towards this.

The report explored the state of automation and the future of work across 12 APAC countries including Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are the countries most at risk and least prepared for automation.

For Haresh Khoobchandani, Vice President, the Asia Pacific at Autodesk, “Automation creates opportunities for a better future of work, particularly in APAC where 60% of the global workforce resides.”

With automation, companies can offload jobs that are dangerous, dull or dirty, and focus on more productive and higher-value work. For example, the use of robots can reduce common manufacturing injuries by up to 72%. By leveraging automation intelligently across major industries such as construction, logistics, and transport, productivity can be boosted, hence generating significant economic benefits.

Workforce automation in APAC

Some of the most common automation technologies used in most organizations in APAC include Robotic Process Automation, virtual assistants, and collaborative robots (cobots) — APAC is home to 64% of the world’s industrial robots.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also enabling organizations to make better data-driven decisions in their productivity. This includes AI-based machine learning algorithms being applied to smart machines in manufacturing plants, smart robotics in logistics, and cloud-based data analytics solutions. Revenue from AI platforms has been forecasted to grow twice as fast in APAC compared to the world between 2019 and 2024.

Businesses need to realize that automation is not just about offloading redundant and dangerous jobs to technology and making processes work faster. Workplace automation also helps address the growing concerns of skills shortage in the region. Countries in APAC, especially Singapore, continue to a face shortage of skilled talents, especially when it comes to working and managing new technologies.

Visitors look at workforce automation robots being used. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

Workplace automation not only helps reduce this talent shortage but also requires less technical skills in handling them as most of the processes will be automated. Companies will be able to spend more time reskilling their existing workforce to deal with more important tasks.

In Singapore, tech jobs are in heavy demand across a multitude of sectors, with around 6,500 newly-created job openings by financial institutions alone. The tech talent dearth is the result of not only the Covid-19 pandemic that has restricted travel into the island-state but also because the Singapore government tightened its hiring policies for foreign skilled workers.

The construction, logistics, and manufacturing industries in Singapore are currently on track to embrace the full potential of automation. Haresh explained that these industries need to recover fast following the effects of the pandemic and automation technology is enabling it by ensuring minimal disruption takes place.

Preparing the workforce for automation

According to Autodesk, new credentialing and certification programs can give employees the skills they need to succeed in this new digital economy. Furthermore, partnerships across the public and private sectors to make workforce development a priority will be essential to growth as well.

Autodesk is not the only organization reskilling employees in Singapore. Most of the tech giants like AWS, Dell and Microsoft are also conducting similar reskilling and upskilling programs not only on the workforce but in educational institutions as well.

Apart from Singapore, other ASEAN nations including Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines have also witnessed increased upskilling programs as businesses there also prepare to embrace more disruptive technologies soon.

The report showed that Indonesia ranks third for risk of automation and seventh for preparedness. As one of the fastest-growing economies in the region, the country still has a very low-skilled workforce that may end up being displaced by automation. Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines are also not fully prepared for automation due to lower implementations, underutilization of the workforce, as well as low internet penetration rates.

Proactiveness to digital transformation essential

Digital change and automation are driving enormous productivity gains in the world of work. The opportunity to usher in a new era of work is tremendous, but countries must take proactive steps to mitigate the negative aspects of this shift. This includes raising the readiness of sectors that are highly at risk of automation and supporting disadvantaged workers, such as individuals with lower education levels.

Having the right infrastructure and skills will mean that countries can create new roles, and transition workers into these roles with the adaptability and resilience required. However, greater technology use will also lead to greater cybersecurity risks.

Organizations need to ensure that when automating workloads, they also have implemented adequate cybersecurity measures to reduce the risks of cyberattacks.

APAC is a diverse region and the challenges facing individual countries when it comes to automation are vastly different. Regardless of geography, automation will create opportunity, if the right support mechanisms are put in place, and the focus is put squarely on helping workers to succeed.

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