The pandemic hastens automation

The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the adoption of automation by firms and organizations across the region, according to a new policy brief by the APEC Policy Support Unit and The Asia Foundation.

Constraints to labor supply caused by movement restrictions, both domestically and globally, as well as the withdrawal of workers who are elderly or have pre-existing conditions are some of the push factors for firms to explore or even deploy automation in their operations.

A variety of stimulus and relief measures launched by governments to cushion the COVID-19 pandemic, such as lower interest rates and subsidies for going digital, may also provide incentives for more firms to automate business processes. The unintended impact of this scenario would be the risk of certain jobs being eliminated, which would contribute to creating further spikes in unemployment rates around the region.

The report calls on APEC policymakers to conduct a thorough risk assessment of jobs that may be impacted or eliminated by automation to understand the challenges faced by workers and the unforeseen impacts of crisis-response policies.

“It is impossible for us to talk about growth when people are struggling to secure their livelihoods,” Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat commented. “We have been mandated by ministers to prioritize the return of workers to employment. Our responsibility is to ensure that we support people at risk with greater inclusive policy instruments.”

Policymakers are advised to strengthen and expand social protection policies to protect workers and provide income security. APEC will also need to collaborate closely with the private sector to monitor automation trends and support the need for workforce upskilling and retraining.

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